The F-22 Raptor: Key Capabilities From YF-22 to F-22 (click to view full) The Raptor had a long development history , and been the focus of controversy, cost concerns, Congressional cutbacks, and some lessons learned. At the same time, the Raptor has done extremely well in exercises against F-15s , with reported kill ratios of up to 108:0 during Exercise Northern Edge 2006. While itâ€™s always wise to take such figures with a grain of salt until one has reviewed the exercise setup and conditions in full, the raw number is impressive. During the 1970s and 1980s, for instance, F-15s matched up against far less sophisticated F-5s generally had kill ratios of about 8:1, which dropped close to parity when greatly outnumbered. That hasnâ€™t happened with the F-22, even when paired against the USAâ€™s most advanced current fighters. Advocates contend that the F-22â€²s combination of stealth, vectored thrust, range, advanced surveillance electronics with potential electronic warfare applications, and sustained supersonic flight (aka â€œsupercruiseâ€) arguably place it in a class by itself among the worldâ€™s combat aircraft. Key advantages include: Embedded Sensors + Sensor Fusion: The goal is to have the pilot focus on dealing with the enemy, rather than dealing with the aircraft. Right now, fighters have multiple sensors and information-sharing links, shown on multiple displays that often require button pressing to switch back and forth. The F-22â€²s central integrated processor (CIP) offers the equivalent of 2 Cray supercomputers, used for â€œsensor fusionâ€ that aims to put all of the information the plane is gathering into one simple display. Furthermore, a radical design departure embeds passive sensors for various wavelengths all around the planeâ€™s structure. This greatly improves first detection ability, even with its radar off; and the combination with sensor fusion means that F-22 pilots are almost certain to know where their opponents are, long before the reverse is true. The F-35 shares this approach. It uses even more modern internal electronics, and a wider array of sensors. Including infrared and TV sensors that can be used to target both aerial and ground foes at the same level as top-end targeting pods and air-to-air IRST (Infra-Red Search and Track) systems. All-Aspect Stealth: The F-22A offers full stealth, unlike the F-35 which has a very good radar profile from the front, a less stealthy profile from the sides, and a least stealthy profile from the rear quarter. Note that stealth is not invisibility. It merely shortens the range at which an aircraft can be detected by opponents on the ground or in the air, and makes radar lock for engagements harder to achieve and to keep. The F-22â€²s stealth level shortens those ranges considerably from all enemy positions, even those that use new VHF radars. See this surprising review from Red Flag â€œColonial Flagâ€ 2007, as an Australian exchange pilot offers his impressions : â€œI canâ€™t see the [expletive deleted] thing,â€ said RAAF Squadron Leader Stephen Chappell, exchange F-15 pilot in the 65th Aggressor Squadron. â€œIt wonâ€™t let me put a weapons system on it, even when I can see it visually through the canopy. [Flying against the F-22] annoys the hell out of me.â€ Note that an EA-18G aircraft has managed a radar-guided missile kill on an F-22 in combat exercises, so it can be done. Again, stealth isnâ€™t invisibility. What it can do, is make the F-22 a very slippery opponent, able to engage or disengage from combat much more easily than previous radar-age fighters. Thatâ€™s especially important during attacks against the most sophisticated anti-aircraft missile sites, enemy AWACS aircraft, and other difficult targets. Those high-end scenarios would become problematic in a plane that had position-dependent vulnerabilities on the way in, or became a much bigger target when itâ€™s flying away. APG-77 AESA Test Agile-beam AESA Radar: Turning on a radar can be like turning on a flashlight in a dark field â€“ it can be seen farther than the holder can see with it. Northrop Grummanâ€™s AN/APG-77 radar uses hard-to-detect â€œagile frequencyâ€ beams that are very hard for enemies to â€œseeâ€. Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars are becoming more common on fighters, due to their improved reliability, power, and flexibility; F-15s are being retrofitted, and the F-35 will carry the smaller but similar AN/APG-81. Future AESA capabilities may also include electronic warfare and high-bandwidth communications. Supercruise: The ability to fly above Mach 1 without using afterburners. Most fighters stay below Mach 1 for the vast majority of their service lives â€“ including in combat â€“ because of how much fuel is consumed. The Raptorâ€™s 2 Pratt & Whitney F119 engines offer 35,000 pounds of thrust each, giving F-22s the ability to cruise at Mach 1.5+ without using fuel-guzzling afterburners. Advantages include missiles and bombs that fly farther when launched at supersonic speeds, longer range combat air patrols with more time spent over target, the ability to engage and disengage more easily against non-supercruising enemy fighters, and less time for enemies around high-value or highly-defended targets to spot an incoming F-22. When combined with the F-22â€²s stealth and stretched missile ranges, it becomes especially hard for enemies to protect high value aerial assets like AWACS planes and aerial tankers. To date, the F-22 is the only operational aircraft capable of consistent supercruise while carrying a full load of weapons. The Eurofighter Typhoon comes closest, with supercruise slightly above Mach 1 when flying at high altitude, and armed with just 4 underbody MRAAM and 2 wingtip SRAAM missiles. The F-35 Lightning II will not supercruise, and design and airflow limitations mean that this wonâ€™t change. Lockheed Martin says the F-35 is designed for better transonic acceleration that current top-line fighters, but outside studies are less confident, and transonic sustainability remains the key tactical question. As fighters like the Russo-Indian T50/PAK-FA come on board, and 4+ generation fighters get major updates, more fighters may become capable of tactical supercruise. Indra Dhanush: SU-30MKI, RAF Typhoon & Tornado F3 (click to view full) Super-maneuverability: The F119 engines can direct their thrust 20 degrees up or down using movable nozzles, an ability called thrust vectoring. That changes the planeâ€™s aerodynamic limitations, allowing tighter and more sustained high-g turns, stall maneuvers that donâ€™t stall the plane, and the ability to suddenly point the plane onto targets, in ways that other aircraft find hard to match or predict. At present, the Russian SU-30MKA/I/M aircraft bought by Algeria, India and Malaysia offer full 360-degree thrust vectoring nozzles (TVN), albeit with a less durable system. Other SU-30 family variants like the SU-35, and UACâ€™s new MiG-35, use similar technology. Eurofighter GmbH is researching and promoting a thrust-vectoring retrofit option, but hasnâ€™t even tested one yet. The F-35 Lightning II wonâ€™t offer combat thrust vectoring, relying instead on electronics that will try to leverage embedded sensors and datalinked missiles to give the plane 360 targeting, and make maneuvering unnecessary. Intimidation: If the enemy wonâ€™t show up, or has to forego targets, you win before fighting even begins. A country trying to protect high-value assets like key installations, aerial tankers, or AWACS aircraft gains a considerable advantage if any strike against these valuable targets risks running into a superior defender, who canâ€™t be seen beforehand. The attacker must either risk failure in some attacks, or concentrate each attack and end up avoiding some targets. All before combat is even joined. On a larger scale, the experience of the Iran-Iraq war is illustrative, and relevant. The Iranian F-14 Tomcatsâ€™ ultra long-range AN/AWG-9 radars, and missiles that included the AIM-54 Phoenix, meant that Iraqi planes would just start blowing up â€“ without warning, and without the ability to see their â€œinvisibleâ€ attacker. Losses were not extreme, but Farzad and Bishopâ€™s research notes that once the USA started passing its own radar data to the Iraqis, the IqAF often stood down entire sectors when they were told that Iranian F-14 Tomcats were present. F-22A and F/A-18E Super Hornet (click to view full) Can the F-22A Raptorâ€™s total package perform well enough to offer that kind of intimidation? F-22 pilot Lt. Col. Wade Tolliver responded to charges of sub-standard F-22 performance in a June 13/06 Virginian-Pilot article, and illustrated a number of the points above: â€œIn the Raptor, â€œI can outmaneuver an F-16, F-15, F-18. It doesnâ€™t matterâ€¦â€ [and] the F-22â€²s radar works in a way that allows him to use it without revealing himself. Though its exact workings are classified, the F-22 is known to emit radar signals in extremely short bursts over multiple frequencies. â€œEven if you detect me, youâ€™re not going to know where I am a second from now,â€ said Joe Quimb, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin, the Raptorâ€™s principal builder. Tolliver said that radar and other sensors, along with information fed into the Raptorâ€™s computers from ground-based radars and other planes, gives F-22 pilots an exceptional, unified view of potential threats and targets aloft and on the groundâ€¦ â€œItâ€™s amazing the information you have at your fingertips,â€ Tolliver said. In no-holds-barred mock battles with F-15s, F-16s and the Navyâ€™s F/A-18 Hornets, he and other Raptor pilots generally â€œdestroyâ€ their adversaries before those foes even realize theyâ€™re aroundâ€¦â€ That was proven in the June 2006 Northern Edge exercise, when even E-2C and E-3 AWACS aircraft reportedly werenâ€™t much help against the F-22. After their missiles were fired, the F-22â€²s active & passive sensor capabilities functioned as the Raptorâ€™s last weapon. Northern Edge 2006â€²s Raptors remained in the fight, flying as stealthy forward air controllers and guiding their colleagues to enemies sitting behind mountains and other â€œBlue Forceâ€ AWACS blind spots. When the AIM-120D AMRAAM missile enters wider service, F-22s will also have the option of actively guiding missiles fired by other aircraft. S-300PMU2/ SA-20 radar & launchers (click to view full) Many of these capabilities also work together when facing top-end anti-aircraft systems on the ground. Russian radar and missile systems like the SA-20 and S-400 are extending their ranges to hundreds of kilometers, and their missile performance makes it extremely dangerous for non-stealth aircraft to challenge that perimeter. That response range will even make them dangerous to stealthy aircraft, as their VHF radars improve and widen the detection distance for even reduced radar profiles. Fortunately, their positions are more fixed than an aerial opponentâ€™s. All-aspect stealth helps shorten the F-22â€²s detection range from any angle, which can create gaps in enemy radar coverage, and is especially useful when the Raptor is trying to leave the danger zone. A hyperspectral suite of embedded sensors helps the aircraft map and exploit coverage gaps in real time, as sensor fusion displays the known safe and danger zones. Supercruise reduces detection times further, and shortens any time inadvertently spent in a danger zone. The hope is that these measures will allow the Raptor to get close enough to launch its own weapons first. An AN/APG-77 radar with future software upgrades may even be able to provide final-stage jamming of enemy radars. The F-35 lacks all-aspect stealth, offering less from the side and even less from the rear. That has caused a number of observers to question its survivability, as the design increases both the danger of being surprised by an enemy radar in an unexpected place, and the danger level when trying to leave any area thatâ€™s still defended. The F-35 also lacks supercruise, which keeps it in the danger zone for longer period of time. On the other side of the equation, the anti-aircraft systems it was designed to beat have improved a great deal since the F-35 JSFâ€™s major shape and design were frozen as â€œgood enough.â€ In its favor, the F-35 has the best set of embedded sensors and sensor fusion of any fighter, and it will carry a wider range of weapons internally, including strike missiles with a longer reach. It will also be built for several nations, in numbers that make investments in new weapons and upgrades more likely. The question is whether its first 2 fundamental limitations in stealth and supercruise end up making its advantages irrelevant, especially as enemy systems and aircraft continue to improve. If so, the F-22A fleet will be expected to take up that slack.