The U.S Air Force has two air superiority fighters in their stable in the F-22 Raptor and F-15 Eagle, but when looking to bolster the fleet with purchases of a new (old) jet for the job, it was the Eagle, not the famed Raptor, to get a second lease on life. That really begs the question: if America can buy new F-15s, a design that’s nearly 50 years old, why isn’t it looking to build new F-22s instead?
Related: WHY IS AMERICA BUYING THE F-15EX INSTEAD OF MORE F-35S?
By most accounting, the F-22 Raptor remains the most capable air superiority fighter on the planet, with its competition in China’s J-20B beginning to shape up and Russia’s Su-57 still lagging a bit behind. The F-22 really is still at the top of its game… but that doesn’t mean building more actually makes good sense.
The F-22 and F-35 are fighters with two very different jobs
While the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is widely seen as the most technologically advanced fighter in the sky, it was designed as a sort of continuation of the F-16 Fighting Falcon’s multi-purpose architecture, with an emphasis placed on conducting air-to-ground operations. The older F-22 Raptor was intended to serve as a replacement instead for the legendary F-15 Eagle, as the nation’s top-of-the-line dogfighter.
Related: Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be
While both the F-22 and F-35 are 5th generation jets that leverage stealth to enable mission accomplishment and both are able to conduct air-to-air and air-to-ground combat operations, they each specialize in a different aspect of air combat and were intended to serve in very different roles. Unlike the F-22, the U.S. continues to receive new F-35s, though comments made by senior defense officials over the past year have placed the Joint Strike Fighter’s future into some question. America will undoubtedly be flying F-35s for decades to come, but it’s beginning to seem less and less likely that the F-35 will replace the F-16 as the Air Force’s workhorse platform.
The F-22 was canceled because America didn’t need a stealth air superiority fighter for the War on Terror
The Air Force originally intended to purchase 750 F-22s to develop a robust fleet of stealth interceptors for the 21st Century. But as the United States found itself further entrenched in counter-terror and counter-insurgency operations against technologically inferior opponents, the need for advanced dogfighters became far less pressing. With ongoing combat operations in multiple theaters to fund, the F-22 program was shut down in December of 2011 with just 186 fighters delivered. Today, nearly a decade later, the F-22 exists in precious few numbers, despite its fearsome reputation.
Related: WHAT DOES IT ACTUALLY MEAN WHEN WE SAY ‘5TH GENERATION’ FIGHTER?
Now, the United States faces concerns about its dwindling fleet of F-22 Raptors that were once intended to replace the F-15 outright. Only around 130 of those 186 delivered F-22s were ever operational, and today the number of combat-ready F-22s is likely in the double digits. With no new Raptors to replenish the fleet as older jets age out, each hour an F-22 flies anywhere in the world is now one hour closer to the world’s best dogfighter’s retirement.
The future of the Air Force, as Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown has plainly stated, doesn’t include the mighty Raptor. But America needs an air superiority fighter that can stand and swing with the best in the world, and as capable as the F-15EX Eagle II may be, it lacks the stealth it would need to survive an open war with a nation like China or Russia. With the NGAD program still years away from producing an operational fighter, America’s air superiority mission now runs the risk of not having the jets it needs for a high-end fight if one were to break out–as unlikely as that may be.
The production facilities and supply chain for the F-22 were cannibalized for the F-35
As simple as just building new F-22s may sound, the truth is, re-starting the F-22 production line would likely cost the same or potentially even more than simply developing an entirely new and potentially better fighter. Lockheed Martin cannibalized a great deal of the F-22’s production infrastructure to support the ongoing production of the F-35, meaning it wouldn’t be as simple as just re-opening the plants that had previously built Raptors.
Related: COULD THE YF-23 HAVE BEEN BETTER THAN THE F-22?
In fact, Lockheed Martin would have to approach building new F-22s as though it was an entirely new enterprise, which is precisely why the United States didn’t look into purchasing new F-22s rather than the controversial new (old) F-15EX.
Boeing’s new F-15s are considered fourth-generation fighters that are sorely lacking in stealth when compared to advanced fighters like the F-22 and F-35, but the Air Force has agreed to purchase new F-15s at a per-unit price that even exceeds new F-35 orders. Why? There are a number of reasons, but chief among them are operational costs (the F-15 is far cheaper per flight hour than either the F-35 or the F-22), and immediate production capability. Boeing has already been building advanced F-15s for American allies in nations like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, so standing up a new production line for the United States comes with relatively little cost.
Related: THE AIR FORCE JUST DROPPED NEW CONCEPT ART OF ITS NGAD FIGHTER
The F-22’s production line, on the other hand, hasn’t existed in nearly a decade. In a report submitted to Congress in 2017, it was estimated that restarting F-22 production would cost the United States $50 billion just to procure 194 more fighters. That breaks down to between $206 and $216 million per fighter, as compared to the F-35’s current price of around $80 million per airframe and the F-15EX’s per-unit price of approximately $88 million.
Does that mean it’s impossible to build new F-22s? Of course not. With enough money, anything is possible — but as estimated costs rise, the question becomes: Is it practical? And the answer to that question seems to be an emphatic no. The U.S. Air Force has invested a comparatively tiny $9 billion into its own Next Generation Air Dominance fighter program — aimed at developing a replacement for the F-22 — over the span of six years (2019-2025).
If the new NGAD fighter enters service on schedule, it may even get to fly alongside the F-22 before it heads out to pasture. So, while the Raptor’s reign as king of the skies may soon come to an end, it may not be before America has a new contender for the title.
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peter john says
Just develop an new fighter using the F-22 as the basis. Tell the airplane maker that you want a new stealth fighter, 1,000 units, that is better than the F-22 at dog fighting and 20% cheaper. There will be a fly off in five years.
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Never going to happen ever ever.
Because an f-22 is a rubbish bin in which SU-57 will discharge its missiles lol.
F-22 is useless and americans know that.
At least, their government does.
The SU-57 would have to actually exist and enter service to do that, Emir.
Where are Su-57 being flown and at what number?
The F22 would detect the SU-57 before it knew it was there… and take it down. Fact. Go fly a kite, Emir.
The F22 Production line (tooling, molds, jigs, etc) is sitting in a few hundred conex boxes at Sierra Army Depot, CA. It is the first production line mothballed in history. Reports of the cost to restart it are greatly exaggerated due to politics.
I was told those were all destroyed under Obama.
Everyone here is missing a big issue: what happens if radars are developed that reduce the effectiveness of stealth designs? Then we have a fleet of stealth aircraft that are less capable in many ways than gen 4 fighters.. speed range ordinance carried, …etc. not every plane needs to be stealth to be effective.
Actually the F22 is more capable than any other fighter in a strictly dogfighting sense, stealth capabilities aside. It has super-cruise and thrust vectoring. Most engagements will take place at 40 miles where the small radar cross section will score the win and should it come down to dogfighting it will win there too. The F22 is the best of the best in the world.
I met as transitional fighter until the NGAD is in production not as a replacement. I am skeptical that the USAF can deliver the NGAD in the timeframe claimed. If they do I do not think immediatly sharing such technology would be wise. The F22 could be updated and put in production in short amount of time with a large international funding. The F22 is no longer cutting edge for the US but our allies are having problems developing the technology. A selective international program would help allied countries to advance more rapidly than expected. China and Russia are already behind the west in this area. An international F22 would exacerbate this gap. Plus old F22s would be useful far longer than old F15s.
Don Karja says
Louis C MAZZELLA says
Japan and most allies want the f-22 so they could help get the line started again without it all falling on the United States to take the brunt of the cost, or would that make to much sense?Not to mention all the problems the f-35 is having.We could have even a better f-22.
Congress passed a law prohibiting the US from exporting the F-22 to other countries. It would make a heck of a lot of sense for the US to share the cost of opening the F-22 line back up and let interested foreign countries significantly, if not totally, absorb the cost of bringing the Raptor’s production back on line. Congress would obviously need to change the law and other countries such as Israel and Japan would need to open their pocket books up, but it could be done.
Idiots like Rumsfeld and Gates (who killed the F-22) didn’t foresee the emergence of China as a hostile superpower, and a resurgent Russia. China may have more 5th generation air superiority fighters than us until the NGAD fighter comes out. We could have sold F-22s to Israel and Japan and other allies once China came out with their 5th gen fighters. That would have helped lower the cost, and we could have downgraded a bit of the sensitive technology for exports if necessary.
I have to agree it was very short sighted of pur military command
brian glenn says
Agree with u. And the F-35 is limited on speed/range/ordnance capabilities.
What was Rumsfeld power and authority in 2010/2011?
John M says
The fallout from the idiotic Iraq misadventure will be plaguing us for decades it seems.
Certainly the F-22 was not needed to fight low level opponents but the fools in DC forgot about the big dogs – Russia and China. Nobody told them that war was now off the table. Sure keeping the F-22 would have been expensive but as JFK said “The cost of Freedom is high”. All the budget dollars you save will be a pittance compared to the costs of fighting a war because we appeared weak or losing a war because we are weak.
Barnacle Bill says
The misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan caused all the services to take their eyes off the ball (near-equal conflict) re Russian and China. The military will be paying for this mess for years as will the taxpayers. Last figure I saw was the sand box and rock box “wars” have cost us something like 8 TRILLION dollars! That sure would have bought a lot of hardware!
thats not what jfk meant about the cost of freedom.. not even close
There is no need for a new F22 it’s decades old now and the USAF is already designing and testing the NGAD, the F22 replacement.
We don’t need any more F-22 raptors . Air Force has already prototyped built and flown the air superiority fighter . 6th gen is already here . NGAD F/A-X .
Taylor Tevebaugh says
Probably a dumb question but since Northrop Grumman is already producing the new B21 Raider stealth bomber, why don’t they just pull out the old YF23 Black Widow, upgrade it to the modern era with new stealth tech., avionics, radar, etc. and start building them? It was the competitor to the F22 almost 30 years ago. Maybe it wouldn’t cost so much now.
It’s the same age as the raptor .
Can’t delete the damn comment above . It’s the same age as the raptor and it was designed at the same time . Just adding new computational technology would not be enough , not to mention most likely hugely expensive to retrofit .
Mike A says
I totally agree, bring back a updated YF23 black widow to fill the void.
Brian George says
They are junk that we have been throwing good money after bad in an effort to make them fly since I was an E2 in 1980 they stalled in turns weren’t able to dog fight with F14s or F18s the Navy gave up on them Before the late great J Michael Borda was was a 2 star Rear Admiral. Then some Senators started pushing there development again and the next thing you know it’s the 2000teens the AIRFARCE buys them and still can’t fly and we’re junking them and that’s all they will ever be is JUNK
Michael Piersanti says
Not in 1980. Maybe you are referring to Havblu. Only thing junk on them is the RAM coating, outdated processors and lack of Link 16 which is being addressed possibly through a second party interface.
Building the F15EX is a mistake. The F22 is the right choice especially now that we are entering a new cold war.
If it is too expensive why not design & build an updated F22 and allow selective export & cost sharing? That makes it financially palatable while China & Russia has to deal with all those additional F22s that our allies would have. In fact we shift the cost of defending against them to our opponents.
NGAD fighter is already being tested, no need to go back to 80’s tech. What is needed is a new jet.
John Hamilton says
That would be way to easy and sensible for the goverement to do.
The USAF stood still, while allowing Qatar and Saudi to spend their money, for all of the r&d etc, for all of the upgrades to the new F-15. I am now retired, but worked on the F-15 line for years, including during all of these upgrades. I always said that I thought the USAF would purchase more after all of these upgrades. This F15 is nothing like the old ones. Now fly by wire, upgrades to radar systems, cockpit upgrades, additional weapons stations, better communication systems to work along side the F35, etc. Basically, the F35 (with its stealth), will pick the fight, and the F-15 will end it! More than capable. Here in the Midwest, where the F-15 is manufactured, our politicians are no where as powerful as the southern and eastern politicians. They work for Lockheed. Otherwise, the YF-23 would have been picked over the YF-22. Don’t forget, senator Sam Nunn (Georgia) was the head of the Senate Arms Committee when the YF-22 was chosen. Georgia, played a huge role in its production! Lockheed took the money, yet not produced a fraction of the order. Btw, if you look at the “division of work” schematic on the F-22, you will find that Boeing actually had a huge percentage of its production, in its Washington plants. Boeing built the aft fuselage, fire systems, etc . Even the wings (if I’m not mistaken). When Boeing took over McDonnell Douglas in 1997, they announced that ALL fighter production would be done in St. Louis, except for its F-22 production lines. I was there, I remember.
Nothing like being there. I think you have a handle on the decision making. A 20 year old ( or older ) design of the F-22 is not looking forward.
Mark Jones says
Muslims are satan .covid is because the nations let them in there was a warning…
Scott Rice says
Again. You must not work on defense . How about the thousands of jobs yes thousands. And no boeing is not getting “rich” from the f15ex. It is helping the economy by creating American jobs
Joe Riz says
What a waste of beautiful jet, and so much money have been wasted just to make a few people Wealthier. The United States is being robbed without any consequences.
You are absolutely right my friend.
We are being robbed big times.
Russia seems to be doing much better with alot less money.
Karl Milhon says
“Why? There are a number of reasons, but chief among them are operational costs (the F-15 is far cheaper per flight hour”
It’s more complicated than this. The plane itself must still be able to compete with the best anyone else can put up. Perhaps not alone, but you don’t buy an old plane without a reason that makes IT still a viable opponent. Things like information integration, unpiloted wingmen, better standoff weaponry and 6th gen planes in the pipeline 5 to 10 years earlier than expected in addition to known deficiencies in potential enemy systems all likely play a part in the equation. It, in reality is an indication of strenght in depth of technology over others, not weakness…
Really!!!! cheaper to fly!!!!Ok say that when our troops lose.lives because we tried to save a buck instead of lives…soooo stupid!!!if we ever lose air superiority we lose our country!!!!let’s here you defend that!!!!!!
This comes from someone not in that world the F 15ex is noting like the original f15 far superior. Stealth fighters can carry very little weapons so they are not as superior as some think stealthy but what does that do if they can’t shoot
Moose, what you just wrote exposes you as a verified idiot.
Implying that just because something is more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s better. You do realize the military budget isn’t infinite? And that the Pentagon brass has to weigh the costs associated with a variety of ongoing programs, and established fleets, and arsenals, all of which continue to cost a ton just to maintain them?
It’s like you didn’t even read the article (which, given some of the comments I’ve read so far seems very likely).
Operational costs ironically may likely be cheaper if we invest in the 6th generation NGAD program instead, which can utilize the most advanced manufacturing technology to craft the world’s most state-of-the-art air-superiority stealth fighter.
Besides, even if the NGAD program turns out to be more expensive than restarting the F-22 program (which, given our politics and economic inflation, is possible) it will still likely produce a fighter that will be astonishingly more advanced than even the F-22 Raptor.
The Raptor, although still king of the skies, is actually getting old now (late Cold War tech actually). We may not even utilize conventional propulsion systems on NGAD fighters if it becomes feasible.
There’s also likely going to be an operational overlap between the F-22 and whatever the NGAD program produces.
Insofar as safety and protection of our ground based military personnel is concerned, why don’t you direct that question at our political leaders in congress and the White House who continue to throw our troops into un-winnable conflicts that are waged for nefarious and often greedy reasons!?
Politicians have needlessly killed more of our troops due to their arrogance than mismanaged aerospace programs. In fact, it’s politics instead of science and engineering that usually screws up most military investments and programs (look into the politics surrounding the original M-16a assault rifle, which our troops hated, or more recently, the politics behind the F-35 program!) 😉
John M says
One issue we have to consider is burning up the service life of top of the line jets doing mundane missions. Kind of like using your ferrari every day to drive down to the grocery store. The A-10 and F-15/F-16 are enough plane to fight insurgents in the Middle East. We basically burned up the service life of the B1 using it as a conventional bomb truck. We could be thinking about putting stand-off anti-ship missiles to terrorize the PLAN with our B1s. But no, they are on the way to the scrap heap. Sure the B-52 is available but it is nuclear capable and sending them into the theater could cause a nuclear war. B1s are not so we could have tasked them with a Naval Strike Mission.
You could argue similar about the A-10 vs F-35. Do we want to risk having a 5th Generation plan shot down or have a malfunction leading to an ejection so that the enemy gets a look at our high tech (like what happened in the Balkans with our F-117)? An A-10 is perfect for that and we don’t eat up the F-35’s very valuable service life dropping mavericks on insurgents.
Robert King says
Why did they build such a beautiful jet if they are going to use it for parts. What a waste.
Karl Milhon says
Strategic error in Judgement and/or someone knowing something we don’t… Likely a bit of both.
Karl Milhon says
Oh, and as another poster noted, political influence cannot be underestimated.
Steven Legere says
Strategic Error of judgement? More like a manifold failure of senior leadership. This is just one of the signs I saw while serving my 21 years in the Navy. I watched Force levels and key capabilities go by the wayside. I watched early retirement of whole classes of very capable warships retired 20 to 30 years early (Spruance/Kidd). I watched our robust and very capable Fleet of guided-missile frigates be replaced by barely armed under sized overly complicated glorified Coast Guard Cutters or as we called them Little Crappy Ships (LCS). I watched all 13 of our most capable surface combatants retired with no replacement. Four Iowa-class battleships and all nine nuclear-powered Cruisers. Six of the nine CGN’s had just been refueled. There were plans to refit and equip all of them with the Mark 41 vertical launch system and AEGIS. We’re talking about ships designed to last for 50 or 60 years retired it 20. I watched the retirement of the A-6 Intruder and F-14 Tomcat with no replacement and no other aircraft that can replicate their capabilities or even come close. The failure to produce the required number of F-22 Raptors needed to defend our nation is just one more example of at best incredibly stupid and at worst treasonous politicians who’s Ignorant short-sighted decisions have the placed us in an incredibly vulnerable position militarily. China could very well take us to the cleaners. I never thought I would see the day when that we would allow this. Everyone involved in the military or defense industry needs to read a short story called Superiority by Arthur C. Clark. We must act now and without hesitation. The purchase of additional if 15 is a step in the right direction increase the order by tenfold, halt retirement of the B1 can Institute a upgrade program, start large-scale upgrade programs for existing F-15, F-16, and A-10 fleets. Ramp up production of Burke class Destroyers, Constitution class Frigates, introduce a scaled-up lengthened Burke with around 300 vertical launch cells as a replacement for the retiring Ticonderoga-class Cruisers. Do not hesitate do it now we have not dealt with a country like China before they would not be afraid to go to war with us and are probably planning on doing so. They care nothing about loss of life. They are a deadly and dangerous enemy and not be underestimated. Sincerely Senior Chief Special Warfare Boat Operator (SWCC, PJ, EXW) S.P. Legere USN Ret.
Ken Johnson says
It makes some sense too restart the production line for the f-22 but budget concerns seem to thrump the matter.
Lockheed.martin could make this happen!!!!I have heard they lost all the tooling to build them????they went to get the tooling for replacement parts and the fixtures were all gone!!!!