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Four F-22s prepare for take-off - image courtesy Lockheed Martin
The Raptor is still shaping up to be a fine aircraft platform

The United States Air Force (USAF) F-22A Raptor has only been in operational service for a little over a year now, and the advanced fighter aircraft is already shaping up to be quite a formidable weapon in the skies. The F-22 can supercruise (achieve supersonic speeds without afterburner) at Mach 1.58 and has a top speed of Mach 2+ thanks to its twin Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 turbofan engines.

Over the past year, F-22s have partaken in a number of simulated "wargames" to display the capabilities of the aircraft. In one two-week excursion in Alaska, designated Northern Edge, the "Blue Air" team which was led by F-22s simply obliterated its "Red Air" threat.

The Red Air threat was composed of a number of previous generation Air Force and Navy aircraft including the F-15, F-16 and F/A-18 Super Hornet. During the exercise, in which more than 40 aircraft littered the skies, the Blue Team achieved a remarkable 241-to-2 kill ratio. It should be noted that the 2 aircraft lost on the Blue Team were F-15C aircraft and not the F-22s.

"They [the Red Air adversaries] couldn’t see us," Tolliver said. "And that’s what makes the F-22 special. I’m out there and I have weapons like an F-15C or an F-16, but ... I’m basically invisible to the other guy’s radar," said Toliver.

The F-22's also scored a 97% mission effective rate during Northern Edge, flying 102 out of 105 assigned sorties. No other new aircraft to enter service into the USAF has been able to achieve such high readiness levels.

Over the past year, the F-22 has had many other success stories. The aircraft has successfully handled alternating air-to-air and air-to-ground operations and have provided additional sensor coverage for trailing friendly aircraft. F-22s have also released JDAMs from an altitude of 50,000 feet while traveling at Mach 1.5 and successfully fired AIM-120C-5 and AIM-9M missiles at live drone aircraft.

Despite all of the successes, there is still room for improvement in the F-22 program. The aircraft's mechanical readiness is now pegged at 70 to 75%, which is slightly lower than the USAF's optimal 75 to 78% rating. Also, pilots are asking for dual-mode satellite/laser guided bombs for the aircraft as well as a helmet-mounted firing system for weapons. Other improvements already in queue include an upgraded radar system and enhanced capabilities in the event of an electronic attack.

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RE: Over budget
By stromgald on 2/5/2007 12:53:09 AM , Rating: 2
The F-22 could achieve an average 120-1 kill ratio over it's life, but that doesn't mean that 200 is enough. In a full scale war against a significant enemy like China, Russia, or some of the European countries, 200 is a very low number. The JSF/F-35 is what's supposed to make up for the loss in numbers but probably won't in the end.

Then again, the likelihood of conflict against any of those nations is exteremely low.

RE: Over budget
By nomagic on 2/5/2007 2:09:23 AM , Rating: 3
Fighter planes can be built rather quickly when the situation demands so. I think it is more important to get more experienced pilots to feel comfortable with F-22 now. After all, training pilots takes more time than building fighter planes.

RE: Over budget
By tmarat on 2/5/07, Rating: -1
RE: Over budget
By gorobei on 2/5/2007 6:08:51 AM , Rating: 3
it was a f117 that was shot down. mostly due to the fact that its generation1 stealthtech was based on reflecting the radar away from the emmiter/receiver dish. the enemy simply waited until the 117 flew past and used another radar to light it up from an angle that the missile receiver could see it from.

the f22 and f35 use second gen stealth that work by absorbing radar energy. so the "light it up from behind" trick wont work.

RE: Over budget
By masher2 on 2/5/2007 9:19:15 AM , Rating: 2
> "it was a f117 that was shot down..."

Wasn't there some question over whether the F117 was even detected on radar or not? I seem to recall some evidence that it was simply hit with a lucky AA shot, and not a radar-guided SAM.

RE: Over budget
By BladeVenom on 2/5/2007 11:06:16 AM , Rating: 3
It was dropping a bomb when it got shot down. The bomb bay doors were open, negating it's stealth.

RE: Over budget
By beemercer on 2/5/2007 3:28:30 PM , Rating: 2
It was a combination of the open bomb bay doors and that the F-117 in question was also wet, and when the radar absorbent paint gets wet it loses some of it's ability to absorb radar.

RE: Over budget
By WhiteBoyFunk on 2/5/07, Rating: 0
RE: Over budget
By stromgald on 2/5/2007 7:06:56 PM , Rating: 2
Radar abosrbing paint is not "horse crap" as you put it. It's one of the main features of the F-22 and Su-47. Read up on stealth before you go mouthing off. I'm not sure if water affects radar absorbant paint, but it's effect is unlikely to significant IMO.

You're right in that the F-117 wasn't shot down with bomb bay doors open. That was the tactic the Iraqis used in the first Gulf War. When the bomb bay doors were open, they shot up flak like crazy to try to clip/damage the F-117s.

The one that came down in Yugoslavia was targeted using a combination of visual sightings and multiple radar sources to help 'paint' the F-117. This greatly reduced the effectiveness of the F-117's faceted stealth.

RE: Over budget
By gorobei on 2/6/2007 8:25:41 AM , Rating: 2
they're right about the RAM(RadarAbsorbingMaterial). Just as certain materials convert UV radiation into heat, there are others that convert the radar EM into non-returnable bounce. the reason the F117 is the least stealthy is that the only RAM on it is the paint. It either ablates or abrrades off, and the plane has to be repainted on a regular schedule. (And rain does seriously affect it; why do you think weather radar is so effective?)

2nd gen stealth uses RAM and radar absorbing structures to avoid reflecting the radar back to the enemy. The leading edge of the B2 has tiny faceted funnel structures inside the leading edge to trap the radar energy. There are also materials that are radar transparent.

and on the F117 shootdown: it wasn't exactly a "lucky" shot. the political airspace restrictions at the time forced the US to fly in from the same direction every time. they knew where he was coming from and where he was going, so it was easy to setup the radar sources along the path to paint him. The airforce knew it was a bad idea but they didn't have much of a choice.

RE: Over budget
By tmarat on 2/5/2007 10:52:40 AM , Rating: 1
F117 must be made so that it reflects as less radio signals back and absorbs as much as it can. But frankly I don't believe a F117 is made so that it is invisible to radars from front and visible from back. I think that would be very stupid, to say the least. Any plane coming from behind would shoot it down. And in a battlefield stationery radar might happen to be located behind the plane.
I don't remember where but I read an article long time ago questioning all this stealth tech. Certainly it does achieve a low radar signature, but at a huge cost.

RE: Over budget
By stromgald on 2/5/2007 11:34:50 AM , Rating: 2
The F-117 shot down over Yugoslavia wasn't because of the bomb bay doors, it was because there were measures to counteract stealth technology. The Yugoslavian military used TV signals instead of normal radar to detect the F-117 and shoot it down. The UK and certain universities in the US have also developed stealth countering systems (one of which involves the separate emitters and receivers that I think a previous poster referred to). All these stealth countermeasures is one of the main reasons that the Russian Su-47 doesn't rely as much on stealth as US planes.

RE: Over budget
By alcalde on 2/5/2007 3:13:57 PM , Rating: 2
You're right about the likelihood of full-scale conflict against these countries. But in addition, remember that the kill ratio was achieved against F-15s, F-16s, F-18s. Russia isn't in shape to field massive numbers of anything at the moment (after repeated submarine missile launch failures one of their top folks stated that Russia's ability to defend its own borders was in doubt, let alone project force outward), and the majority of its airforce consists of older Migs. The bulk of China's airforce is also much less effective than the U.S. planes listed above. This leaves certain European countries. Here the ratio would apply with planes like the French Rafale, the UK/German/Spanish Eurofighter, the Swedish & Czech Gripen, and others.

RE: Over budget
By lewisc on 2/5/2007 5:25:29 PM , Rating: 2
Am I the only one (from Europe) wondering which European nation is lining up for a war with America? I know you were posing a hypothetical, but even so!

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