The U.S. Air Force has developed a replacement for its top-of-the-line F-15 fighter called the F/A-22 Raptor. Raptor flew for the first time in 1997 and is now entering high-rate production. This study explains the missions that Raptor will accomplish, the capabilities it will deliver, and the costs it will incur. The study was written by Dr. Loren B. Thompson of the Lexington Institute staff.
Missions — Raptor’s most important mission is to assure U.S. global air dominance for the next 30 years. Air dominance enables every other facet of joint warfare. In addition, Raptor will be able to conduct precision strikes against ground targets, theater defense of coalition forces, electronic warfare, information warfare, and tactical reconnaissance.
Threats — Current U.S. fighters are losing their capacity to assure air dominance against foreign tactical aircraft and surface-to-air missiles. For example, U.S. fighters suffered severe losses in joint exercises with the air force of India during 2004. The Russian SA-20 is one of several mobile, integrated air-defense systems that provides developing countries with very effective protection against non-stealthy fighters at an affordable price.
Characteristics — Raptor provides U.S. forces with a highly maneuverable airframe that cannot be tracked by enemy radar, heat-seeking sensors or other means. Its powerful twin engines, combined with vectored thrust and supersonic speed at reduced rates of fuel consumption, further enhance aircraft survivability. The advanced weapons and sensors carried on Raptor far surpass the technology of likely adversaries, and can accomplish a range of informationage missions beyond the scope of Cold War fighters.
Capabilities — Raptor is designed to operate as part of Aerospace Expeditionary Forces in support of joint military campaigns. Its design features permit “first look, first shot, first kill” against fighters seeking to deny access to enemy airspace. They also have the capacity to quickly find, fix, track and attack mobile air defenses on the ground. Once Raptor has assured the access of friendly aircraft to hostile airspace, it then can shift to other missions such as destroying weapons that threaten coalition ground forces.
Costs — The cost of acquiring Raptor is currently estimated at $72 billion in 2004 dollars, most of which has been spent. That total may rise in order to increase the number of aircraft produced and enhance the baseline design for a wider array of missions. The recurring cost to build each Raptor currently stands at $110 million in 2004 dollars, which does not include $20 million for engines.
Numbers — The Air Force requires 381 Raptors in order to equip each of ten Aerospace Expeditionary Forces with a squadron of such aircraft. Providing each expeditionary force with an identical complement of fighters is necessary to sustain prolonged overseas deployments through a series of force rotations. Failure to purchase at least 381 Raptors would undercut Air Force plans to assure global air dominance into the fourth decade of the current century.
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