Weapon Systems

Capabilities of F-22 Raptor extend well beyond air-to-air combat


The stealth fighter-bomber has superior capabilities to detect adversary air defenses and other capabilities that could empower follow-on fighters and bombers to get closer to other targets.

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A US Air Force F-22 Raptor approaches the boom of a KC-135 Stratotanker on March 14, 2022. [US Air Force]
A US Air Force F-22 Raptor approaches the boom of a KC-135 Stratotanker on March 14, 2022. [US Air Force]

Designed primarily for air-to-air combat and long considered the top US air superiority fighter, the F-22 Raptor is also capable of carrying out ground attacks, radar-jamming and surveillance.

The F-22 is capable of hitting ground targets from high altitudes while flying at cruise speeds and engaging enemy aircraft, according to a May 18 Business Insider report.

The US Air Force has nearly 200 F-22s, which became operational in 2005. They have been used to strike "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) targets in Iraq and Syria and, as that conflict wound down, in Afghanistan.

The F-22 Raptor made its combat debut in Syria in September 2014.

US Air Force F-22 Raptors arrive at al-Dhafra air base in the United Arab Emirates on February 12, 2022. [US Air Force]
US Air Force F-22 Raptors arrive at al-Dhafra air base in the United Arab Emirates on February 12, 2022. [US Air Force]

The fighter was used earlier this year, when it downed a Chinese spy balloon and an unidentified, high-altitude object in two separate engagements.

It is considered the most advanced jet in the world because of its ability to evade detection by radar, can fly at speeds beyond Mach 2 and can release laser-guided bombs 25km from its target, AFP reported.

The F-22 has a significant capability to attack targets on the ground, according to an Air Force fact sheet from August 2022.

In the air-to-ground configuration, the fighter-bomber can carry two 1,000-pound guided air-to-surface weapons (Joint Direct Attack Munitions), two AIM-120C, and two AIM-9 missiles, using on-board avionics for missile navigation.

Stealth technologies provide the aircraft with "significantly improved survivability and lethality against air-to-air and surface-to-air threats", enabling the F-22 to protect itself as well as other military assets, per the fact sheet.

Stealth, or low observable technology, is intended to reduce the detectability of military platforms against threat sensors and detection systems.

The F-22 also is able to detect adversary air defences, which could allow other follow on fighters to get closer to other targets, according to the US military.

The fighter-bomber can jam fire control radar from distances up to 250 nautical miles, the military said, and at closer ranges is capable of disabling radar.


The F-22 engines produce more thrust than any current fighter engine, according to the Air Force fact sheet.

"The combination of sleek aerodynamic design and increased thrust allows the F-22 to cruise at supersonic airspeeds (greater than Mach 1.5) without using afterburner -- a characteristic known as supercruise," it said.

"Supercruise greatly expands the F-22's operating envelope in both speed and range over current fighters, which must use fuel-consuming afterburner to operate at supersonic speeds," it noted.

The "sophisticated F-22 aerodesign, advanced flight controls, thrust vectoring, and high thrust-to-weight ratio provide the capability to outmanoeuvre all current and projected aircraft".

The combination of stealth, integrated avionics and supercruise minimises enemy capabilities to track and engage the F-22, which in turn accentuates the advantage of surprise in a tactical environment.

According to the Air Combat Command, the US Air Force is already using fighters and bombers, including the F-22, to provide "some level of surveillance and reconnaissance for intelligence purposes".

The F-22 is able to transfer real-time intelligence data between other aircraft and ground stations, it said.

Modernisation strategy

Boeing and Lockheed Martin developed and built the F-22 in the mid-1990s. The jet was intended to replace the F-15 as a "front-line dominance fighter".

According to Boeing, the F-22 is an "extremely advanced tactical fighter that combined stealth, integrated avionics and manoeuvrability".

The F-22 was introduced in 2005 as a solution to counter threats posed by China's Shenyang J-11 and the Soviet-era MiG 29 Fulcrum and Su-27 Flanker, per Business Insider.

"After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the next generation of Soviet fighters the aircraft had been intended to dominate in aerial combat never materialised," Boeing said.

The US Department of Defence announced the decision to end F-22 production at 187 aircraft in April 2009, and the Air Force received the last F-22 in 2012.

But updates and upgrades have continued for the newer aircraft in the fleet.

The F-22 programme uses an "agile" modernisation strategy to rapidly and continuously develop, test and field incremental improvements, according to Air & Space Forces magazine.

Five aircraft modified with new software improvements began operational testing in 2018, and fleetwide rollout is planned through the 2023 fiscal year, it said.

Additional upgrades include engine safety, performance and maintainability, tactical improvements and GPS-denied navigation capability.

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