Did the F-22 Fail? U.S. Air Force Getting Rid of Problematic Stealth Jets But Keeping Old F-15s

Amid ongoing issues with maintenance and availability rates, the U.S. Air Force is reportedly planning to cut its fighter fleet from seven different classes to just four in the coming years. Air Force Chief of Staff General Charles Brown Jr. announced on May 12th that the future fleet would be built around the cheap and light F-16, the new and heavy F-15EX which is a modernised variant of the Cold War era F-15 Eagle, the stealthy F-35, and the upcoming F-X sixth generation air dominance fighter. Fighters with no future in the Air Force, which are expected to be retired in the near future, include the ageing F-15C, the newer F-15E, and most notably the F-22 Raptor. Other than the F-35, the F-22 is the newest fighter airframe design in U.S. service and only began to enter service from December 2005. What makes its early retirement particularly surprising to many is that the aircraft has long been considered America’s most capable aircraft for air to air combat which until 2017, when it was challenged by China’s J-20, was the only air superiority fighter in the world with fifth generation capabilities. 

While the F-22 is a formidable aircraft, benefiting from revolutionary F119 engines, the stealthiest airframe of any Western fighter, and an excellent flight performance including high manoeuvrability, the practicality of keeping the aircraft in service has been questionable. The Raptor has suffered performance issues from the outset, and has extremely high maintenance requirements which have resulted in availability rates that are by far the lowest in the U.S. Air Force. The fighter has also struggled to integrate new technologies which are vital to allowing it to go head to head with high end competitors such as the J-20 or Russia’s Su-57, such as helmet mounted sights and modern data links which are fielded by almost all other modern fighter classes today.  While the Raptor was initially intended to replace the F-15 Eagle, production was terminated in 2011 less than six years after the fighter first entered service. To put this in perspective, the F-15 first flew in 1972 and entered service in 1975, but is still in production today and is expected to see a production run of over 55 years. The F-22 ultimately failed to be a practical design to replace the F-15, and while a number of analysts have considered the program a failure, the announcement that the very costly and relatively new aircraft will see an very early retirement while the F-15 not only serves on, but remains in production, is a testament to the fact that the F-22 was not a practical fighter. The continued burden placed on the F-15, which was designed in the 1960s, bears testament to the F-22 program’s failure.

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