August 7, 2006 (by Harold C. Hutchison) - In recent exercises over Alaska, the F-22 has been put to the test. The results have been staggering. F-22s notched an impressive 108 to 0 "kill ratio" - often when outnumbered by as much as 8 to 1 by simulated Su-27/30 aircraft.
Five Air Force F-22 Raptors taxi after arrival at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, on Tuesday May 23, 2006. Raptors from the 27th Fighter Squadron at Langley AFB, Va., are supporting Exercise Northern Edge 2006. The Air Force has selected Elmendorf as the home for the next operational F-22 squadron. The base will receive 36 Raptors, with the first jet expected in fall 2007. [USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Dave Donovan]
In a very real sense, this is a preview of what is to come for forces facing the F-22. The F-15 and F-18 scored a 2:1 kill ratio against the simulated Flankers. This is not the only time that F-22s have shown their capabilities. Eight F-22s faced off against 33 F-15Cs earlier this year, and "shot down" all of the F-15Cs with no loss to itself.
Why does the F-22 dominate? The answer lies in the two biggest rules of air combat. The first rule is, "Speed is life." The F-22 has speed – reaching nearly 2,600 kilometers per hour, and having the ability go faster (up to 1,830 kilometers per hour) than the speed of sound without using its afterburners. It is faster than a Eurofighter, Flanker, or Rafale. It can catch its target, or get out of a situation, should that rare occasion arise.
The second rule is, "Lose the sight, lose the fight." The F-22 is very capable of making an opponent "lose sight" of it – often through its stealth features that cause enemy radars to perform poorly when looking for an F-22. This means the F-22 will "see" its opponent far sooner than it will be seen itself. In aerial combat, 80 percent of those planes killed in air-to-air combat never knew the opponent that killed them was there.
In a very real sense, the F-22 is the superfighter of the 21st Century. The F-22 is emerging as a long-range fighter (with a range of over 3200 kilometers), capable of fighting when outnumbered 4 to 1 (or more), and it also has significant edges in the areas of speed and stealth. The F-22 is proving to be a very reliable plane (with less than 7 percent of sorties being aborted). Some problems have emerged as the F-22 joins the operational force, most notably with a titanium boom on the first 80 planes, but these problems are being fixed. The F-22's high speed and performance also gives weapons like the AMRAAM
much more range than from the F-15E or F-16.
The F-22's biggest weakness seems to be its price tag ($361 million per plane*). But it is quickly proving it is capable of clearing the skies against as many as eight opponents per F-22. When you consider that the Eurofighter costs $58 million per plane, and the Rafale pushes $66 million, while the F-35C pushes $61 million, the F-22 isn't that bad, particularly when two F-22s at $274 million** can easily wipe out eight Eurofighters at $464 million.
While the U.S. Air Force may be engaging in some puffery when it comes to describing the F-22, the track record of new American combat aircraft over the last few decades, indicates that the F-22 is, indeed, an impressive combat aircraft. But, as with any warplane, it won't be until the aircraft actually experiences combat, that it's reputation can be established as more than just potential. – Harold C. Hutchison
*Price per plane including research and development
**Price per plane not including research and development