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
"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
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.