Monday, May 25, 2015

Dominating the Skies

Designed as an air superiority fighter, the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor is a single seat, twin engine all weather stealth tactical fighter aircraft. The Raptor was developed for the United States Air Force when a requirement for an advanced tactical fighter was released in 1981. The requirement was calling for a new superiority fighter aircraft to replace the F-15 Eagle and the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The emerging worldwide issues influenced the requirement, code named Senior Sky. The prime contractor for the F-22 was Lockheed Martin Aeronautics; they manufactured the majority of the airframe and performed the final assembly at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia. The rest of the F-22’s airframe was provided by Boeing Defense, Space and Security. They provided the wings, aft fuselage, avionics integration and even the training systems.
            The F-22 has many capabilities and is considered by the United States Air Force to be a critical component of its tactical air power. The USAF also states that the aircraft is unmatched by any known or projected fighters.  Some of the capabilities include ground attack, electronic warfare and signals intelligence roles. The F-22 has exceptional air combat capabilities and it is most likely due to its stealth, aerodynamic performance and situational awareness. 

            As the world’s premier fifth generation fighter, the F-22 is the only fighter capable of conducting air to air and air to ground combat missions at the same time with near perfection. The F-22 has an exceptional standard of survivability and can perform at its best even while being faced with airborne and ground-based threats. The Raptor evolved from a basic concept to a lethal multimission fighter. It was able to use emerging technologies to become top of its class.
            Although the F-22 Raptors are highly skilled aircrafts, the need for them was debated due to the rising costs and the lack of immediate adversaries. Because of the American law restricting the F-22s from being exported, they could not be sold to other countries. (Earlier models of the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon were better options for exporting because of the lower cost and better flexibility.)  In 2006, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessed the F-22’s cost to be about $361 million per aircraft; however, in 2012 the GAO increased the estimated cost to about $412 million per aircraft. One also had to factor in the rough $68,000 cost per flight hour.
            The government discussed discontinuing the Raptor but in 2008 congress passed a spending bill funding the continuation of F-22 production. Lockheed Martin was told to build four additional aircrafts, bringing the total to 187. Despite the funding, in 2009 under the new Obama administration, President Obama called for the ending of the F-22’s production. The four additional Raptors were built and the total was capped at 187 aircrafts. 

            In order to maintain their high standards, the Raptors require a good amount of maintenance and money to keep the aircrafts in good shape.  Each Raptor required a month long maintenance plan every 300 hours. One third of that maintenance plan was dedicated to the stealth system. In order to increase the F-22’s service life and reduce operating costs, some pilot training were performed in flight simulators while the T-38 Talon was used for adversary training.

            Raptors are still operational today and are assigned to various basses across the country to protect the United States and be combat ready worldwide. One can find the F-22’s in Virginia, Alaska, Hawaii and a few other bases.  The last two Raptors departed Lockheed Martin in May 2012 and headed for their new home at an air force base in Alaska.

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