General Mark Kelly, Chief of the Air Combat Command (ACC), has released a visualization of an improved fifth-generation F-22A Raptor fighter. The F-22A carries stealth fuel tanks, and reconnaissance containers and fires an unknown air-to-air missile in the picture.
Lockheed Martin will improve the F-22 Raptor fighters as part of its long-term ARES (Advanced Raptor Enhancement and Sustainment) program. Lockheed entered into an $ 11 billion contract with the U.S. Air Force (USAF) earlier this year.
It is a long-term service and modernization contract. Since the F-22 production ended in 2010, the USAF has invested more than $ 12 billion in operation and improvement of the F-22. Keeping the F-22 fleet in the air costs the USAF about $ 1 billion a year.
There is little official information about the modernization of the F-22. The timing and extent of the improvements are unknown. Even in the visualization itself, published by General Kelly, the ACC said vaguely: “We need every combat platform to have a longer range, range of sensors and weapons. This illustration is simply an artistic representation of the F-22 with any number of future abilities.”
The USAF also has a plan to begin decommissioning the F-22 after 2030. In eight years. The USAF is requesting the decommissioning of the 33 oldest F-22 Block 20 in the following fiscal year. The USAF operates a total of 36 F-22 Block 20. The aircraft is not intended for combat use and are used “only” for training. Overhaul and modernization of these planes are estimated at $ 50 million apiece, which corresponds to the price of the new F-16.
In the news from the U.S. media, the visualization shows newer and previously introduced technologies. Specifically, these are stealth fuel tanks, stealth reconnaissance containers at the wingtips and an unknown air-to-air missile.
Twenty years ago, the FB-22 Raptor fighter bomber concept appeared, which had stealth tanks and stealth gun containers. Years ago, Boeing offered something similar for the Advanced Super Hornet concept.
According to the American media, the new stealth tanks (and pylons) are referred to as LDTP (Low Drag Tank and Pylon). The tanks have a smaller radar cross-section (RCS) and are designed for supersonic flight.
With the classic two additional tanks (2 × 600 gallons; 2 × 2270 litres), the F-22 has a theoretical range of up to 3,000 kilometres. The F-22 can also jettison fuel tanks, so it regains its stealth. It also applies to LDTP. There is talk of an even more efficient way of jettisoning.
Another key element of the F-22 upgrade is the long-awaited installation of a passive IRST (Infrared Search and Track) infrared sensor. For visualization, IRST is built into the container.
The built-in EOTS (Electro-Optical Targeting System) infrared sensor, like in that of F-35A, can not be installed on F-22 due to the limited space in the airframe.
The F-22 with these special containers was already photographed at Edwards Air Force Base in early February. These are universal containers carrying IRST sensors and the latest means of electronic warfare.
IRST enables the F-22 to search and target air and ground targets without switching on its radar. IRST even allows air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons guidance. The new F / A-18E / F Super Hornet Block III has this capability.
Currently, the F-22 can drop “only” satellite-guided JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) bombs on pre-designated targets. Using IRST and a possible laser marker (if included in the container), the F-22 can also use laser-guided Paveway bombs or laser JDAMs (L-JDAM).
Along with stealth tanks, IRST and JDAM bombs, the F-22 transforms into a deadly platform for attacks on surface targets. A week ago, the USAF performed a training strike on a decommissioned vessel using a modified GBU-31 JDAM bomb (900 kg). As a result of the massive explosion, the ship broke down and sank immediately.
There is also an unknown air-to-air missile on the visualization – it may be a new missile AIM-260 JATM (Joint Advanced Tactical Missile). Information and visuals on the program are very rare. JATM has been in the works since 2017 and will replace the AIM-120 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile) standard air-to-air missile in the future. JATM should have the same dimensions as AMRAAM and a longer range. There is also talk of a dual-sensor combining infrared and radar guidance. The visualization does not show any intake openings, so the classic solid-fuel rocket engine is used, not the thrust engine, as in the European Meteor missile.
As per the information, the F-22 is being used to test technologies for the developing “fighter” of the sixth generation NGAD (Next Generation Air Dominance). However, technology transfer is to take both directions – the capabilities developed for NGAD are to be integrated into the F-22.
Therefore, all new technologies developed, implemented, and operationally tested on the F-22 will be “smoothly” transferred to the new NGAD plane. In this way, it is theoretically possible to reduce technological risks and, above all, to fine-tune the identified shortcomings in advance.