As already reported, Speaking during the McAleese FY2022 Defense Programs Conference Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., Air Force Chief of Staff, said on May 12, 2021 that the US Air Force (USAF) will cut its fighter inventory from seven fleets to four, and the F-22 is not on his short list.
Asked to clarify, an Air Force spokesperson said Brown is thinking very long-term and in the context of “a very small fleet,” which will become increasingly hard to support, especially as it passes the 25-year age mark in 2030. The F-22 will “eventually” retire from the inventory, she said, noting the F-22’s likely successor will be the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD).
‘The USAF wants to retire the F-22 beginning around 2030 mainly due to two reasons: the F-22’s high operating costs, and the F-22’s obsolescence in a number of areas, with the latter being the primary reason,’ aviation expert James Smith says on Quora.
‘With regards to high operating costs, the F-22 fleet was not produced in sufficient quantities to replace the F-15, and therefore its logistics and supply chain do not benefit from economy of scale as much as jets like the F-16 and F-35. The F-22 also uses legacy stealth materials that increase maintenance costs; properly retrofitting the F-22 with the F-35’s more durable full material stack is also not possible without replacing the composite panels of every F-22. These composites are not the same, so the structural strength of the jet and possibly the thickness of its skin would be affected, requiring recertification of its life limit and likely some redesigns of panels and doors to accommodate altered geometry. There are also a number of other technological advances that allows fighters to be cheaper to maintain, but which would require redesigns of the F-22, some being quite deep.
‘In terms of obsolescence, the F-22’s biggest issues are its limited range, its outdated core avionics and its stealth design.’
‘For range, the F-22 was designed primarily for fighting in Europe and turn of the millennium era threats, and so its combat radius of approximately 590 nautical miles (less with any use of supercruise) is not ideal for a war with China. This is because jets may need to be flying from locations like Guam and relying on tankers only ~400 nautical miles (if F-22s are using supercruise) behind the F-22’s, which would then be threatened by new very long range missiles and enemy stealth fighters that may be able to slip sufficiently far past fighter screens to take those tankers out.
‘By comparison, the F-35A (land-based variant) has an air-to-air combat radius of 760 nautical miles, with a new engine being developed for it which would boost that to nearly 1000 nautical miles. The F-22’s NGAD successor is also anticipated to have an approximately 1000+ nautical miles combat radius.
‘For its core avionics the F-22 is considerably hampered by old ADA code with limited modularity, being run on old processors. Because the software isn’t very modular or open, adding a new sensor requires a lot of extra work. For the F-22 to outperform jets like the J-20 into the 2030s and beyond, it needs to keep up by getting a helmet mounted display, a panoramic cockpit display, updated electronic warfare systems, long range infrared sensors, updated communications systems, improved sensor fusion and combat ID systems, etc. Developing a clean sheet system based around an open architecture will take time and money, but from there it’ll be much easier to keep cutting edge, which will be critical as we enter into something resembling a second Cold War.
‘For stealth, the F-22 is quite stealthy, but its potential was compromised in order to make it very agile, which in this day and age is becoming a lesser and lesser priority as air-to-air missiles become more advanced.’
‘By creating a clean sheet fighter, you can make a jet better shaped to have highly effective stealth against both fire control radar bands like the X-band, and lower frequency “counter-stealth” search radars operating in the UHF and VHF bands, allowing jets like NGAD to escort B-21 bombers as they penetrate deep into enemy airspace.’
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
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