Still Cost Effective; The F-35 May Be the World's Most Expensive Weapons Program - But it is Set to Become the Cheapest Modern Fighter in the West
North America, Western Europe and Oceania , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft
15 July 2018
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, indented to develop a next generation replacement for the fourth generation F-16 Fighting Falcon, produced its first combat ready aircraft in 2014. The new fighter is to serve as a lighter and less costly counterpart to the F-22 Raptor twin engine heavy air superiority fighter, just as the F-16 before it did for the F-15 Eagle. Unlike the Raptor and Eagle, the F-35 is not designed to contend with elite enemy combat aircraft in air to air combat and has only limited defensive air to air combat capabilities.
The F-35 is set to become the most expensive weapons program in history by a considerable margin at over $1.6 trillion. As the cost of the fighter program continues to rise however, the cost of each individual fighter jet built under it has shrunk rapidly as production gains momentum. While fighters produced in 2015 cost well over $150 million each, by January 2017 the price fell to $95 million (prices in 2016 dollars.) Indeed, the unitary cost is likely to fall to approximately $80 million assuming expansion of production continues apace. This is possible as a result of the program's vast economies of scale, as while development costs of the fighter are in the hundreds of billions of dollars, almost 3000 aircraft are planned which will share the cost per unit between them. Over two thirds of F-35 fighters planned are set to enter service in the U.S. military, and American orders are vital to driving down the unitary costs of the fighter. It is in this way that the most expensive fighter program in history, produced in large enough numbers, can bring out a platform which is price competitive and at least somewhat cost effective. While the heavier F-22 Raptor's development cost a fraction of that of the F-35, with only 187 Raptors produced (195 including prototypes) these costs cannot be shared out in the same way resulting in each Raptor costing approximately twice as much as an F-35.
Economies of scale have been a key advantage of U.S. light fighters over rival platforms produced by competing manufacturers. The F-16 was in much the same way produced in very large numbers, with over 4,500 entering service with the United States and its allies around the world, and a key to its export success was its low unitary cost and resulting price competitiveness due to the high demand from the U.S. military itself. While the F-16 cost more than the F-15, its heavier counterpart, to develop, its unitary cost was also approximately half. The Falcon was a cheaper and lighter analogue to the Eagle much as the F-35 is to the F-22 today - and as the F-5 was to the F-4 in the Vietnam War era.
The F-35 is set to become the cheapest, and likely the most cost effective, modern Western made fighter in the world. While China and to a lesser extend Russia can benefit from large economies of scale for their fighter programs due to high domestic demand, European producers notably cannot. Indeed, Western European defence industries generally have notoriously poor cost effectiveness relative to their American counterparts, particularly in military aviation, a result of a number of factors including strong currencies, high labour costs and a relative lack of experience in the field. Even the new Swedish Gripen E light fighter, comparable to but in many ways less capable than America's F-16, is set to cost considerably more than the F-35 and over double the price of the Fighting Falcon. Twin engine European fighters such as the Rafale and Eurofighter, while lacking the F-35's fifth generation technologies which European defence firms are yet to develop, are also set to cost considerably more per unit to acquire than the F-35 despite their similar weight and role. The result is that the F-35 is highly likely to become the least costly modern combat aircraft produced in the West, and could well almost completely phase European platforms out of export markets in future should export controls eventually be lifted or scaled back. It is as a result of the scale of production, a highly prized asset, that the American fighter will, despite coming from the most expensive weapons program in military history, be less costly than both the F-22 Raptor and rival Western platforms.
Yak-141 Returns; Vertical Takeoff Aircraft Coming Soon to the Russian Navy?
Eastern Europe and Central Asia , Naval
15 July 2018
During the Cold War the Soviet Union’s Yakovlev Design Bureau developed the Yak-38 Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) strike fighter to operate from the navy’s Kiev Class light carriers. Entering service in 1976 and serving until 1991, the year of the Soviet Union’s dissolution when the country’s four Kiev Class ships were retired due to budgetary restrictions, the fighters were capable of flying at Mach 1, at a relatively low altitude of 11km and had only four external hardpoints to carry bombs, rockets and missiles. While limited in its combat capabilities, the Yak-38 was from the beginning designed primarily provide the Soviet military with experience operating VTOL aircraft from its carriers and give Yakovlev invaluable design experience in the field. Even before the Yak-38 entered service, the Soviet Navy had already requested a more capable VTOL platform with superior capabilities to those of the Yak-38, with the aircraft serving as an interim platform for the Soviet Navy. The new VTOL platform was expected to have capabilities similar to the Soviet Air Force’s frontline fourth generation fighters such as the MiG-29 and Su-27, and Yakovlev begun work on the new platform before first deliveries of the Yak-38 to the Soviet Navy.
The Yak-141, also known as the Yak-41, would see its first flight 11 years later in 1987. The aircraft was significantly faster, more manoeuvrable, longer ranged, higher flying and better armed than its predecessor the Yak-38 - and was capable of deploying the most advanced Russian air to air missiles and anti ship missiles used by other fourth generation fighters. The program was considered a major priority for Yakovlev, particularly in light of the USSR’s vast naval expansion efforts which began in the mid 1980s under which a major carrier fleet, including Ulyanovsk supercarriers comparable to the American Nimitz Class warships, were to be built. The design bureau allocated ten chief engineers to the project - with over fifty designs studies submitted for the new platform. In September 1991, just months before the Soviet disintegration, the the Yak-141 made its first vertical landing on the heavily modified Kiev Class carrier Admiral Gorshkov. With the end of the Soviet Union and the subsequent decline of the Russian economy, which contracted over 40% from 1992 to 1997, Yakolev lost funding to continue the project. By then four working prototypes were in service.
There have been few developments for the Yak-141 project since 1991, and though U.S. defence manufacturer Lockheed Martin did briefly cooperate with Yakovlev, reportedly gaining critical technologies for its own X-35 short takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) fighter which would come to be the F-35B, there appeared few prospects for the fighter ever seeing active service despite its advanced capabilities. As of 2018 a number of recent developments within the Russian military, and the Russian Navy in particular, could well lead to the revival of the Yak-141 program. As Russia’s economy began a slow recovery from the year 2000, and the country sought to enhance its military capabilities under a massive modernisation drive initiated in 2008, a number of partially completed Soviet era weapons program have been revived. From the late 2000s Chief of the Russian General Staff General Nikolai Makarov has strongly advocated the need for light carriers to enter service in the country’s navy, with four such carriers planned under a joint project with France from which Paris withdrew in 2014. Russia has since worked to develop the capabilities to built light carrier warships domestically, and according to Navy Deputy Commander in Chief Viktor Bursuk the country is set to begin construction of the first of these ships in 2020. Two carrier variants are currently planned, which have been referred to as the “universal amphibious assault ship” and “large amphibious assault ship.” The first of these are, according to Deputy Defence Minister Yuri Borisov, set to enter service in the early 2020s, and the heavier class reportedly could displace up to 40,000 tons.
With the resurrection of a light carrier program, the Russian Navy will for the first time since the USSR’s fall have need for advanced VTOL capable fighter aircraft. With a number of states which field light carriers set to acquire F-35B short takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft for their warships, Japan’s Izumo Class, the United States’ Wasp and America Class assault ships and Italy’s Cavour and Giuseppe Garibaldi among them, Russia may well follow this trend and attempt to induct a fighter with yet more sophisticated VTOL capabilities. With the Yak-141 already in late prototype stages at the time of its cancellation, research and development costs to move the design to a production ready stage would be significantly reduced. With a significant demand for low cost aircraft capable of operating from light carriers, with China, Thailand and South Korea all potential clients which field such warships, the Yak-141 could also potentially become a major export success for Russian military aviation. With China currently building three 075 amphibious assault ships, massive 40,000 ton vessels each capable of deploying up to 30 aircraft, Beijing is likely to be a major client for an advanced Russian VTOL fighter - with export sales subsiding the cost of starting the program and making it considerably more cost effective.
The VTOL fighters are set to serve as an effective force multiplier for any carrier strike group which fields them, with the aircraft likely to deploy some of Russia's most capable standoff weapons allowing them to threaten enemy aircraft and warships at extreme ranges. Considering that the original Yak-141 was to be equipped with R-77 air to air missiles, long range platforms and the most advanced in the Russian inventory at the time, it remains possible that a modern adaptation of the platform could deploy lethal new K-77 air to air missiles - platforms based on the R-77 but extensively modified for deployment by next generation fighters and retains an unparalleled 193km strike range and a high degree of precision. State of the art anti ship missiles far surpassing those fielded by Western carrier based fighters such as the F-35B, weapons such as the Mach 3 Kh-41and 300km range Kh-35U and P-800, allow even relatively small carrier warships the size of the Dokdo or Mistral Class to deploy lethal firepower and thus gain an asymmetric advantage at sea by fielding even a small contingent of Yak-141 jets. Equipping the fighter with advanced AESA radars based on those recently developed for the MiG-35 and Su-57 also remains a significantly possibility. Considering the high potential for exports and Russia’s considerable need for these aircraft for its own navy should the country’s light carrier program be seen through, the completion of the Yak-141 program and finally inducting the advanced fighter into active service, most likely with a number of modernisations applied, represents a potentially highly feasible project and one which there is a good chance the Russian military will pursue.
North Korean Defence Cooperation with Egypt; How Rodong and Hwasong Missiles Came to Comprise the Bulk of Cairo’s Ballistic Missile Forces
Middle East , Missile and Space
14 July 2018
The Egyptian military today (as a major Tier Three military power) fields by far the largest and most capable ballistic missile arsenal on the African continent. The country has a long history with ballistic missiles, seeing one of the first Cold War deployments of such weapons during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when the prolific Soviet Scud missile saw its first ever use in combat. The missiles were deployed near the war’s end when an Israeli victory appeared imminent, reportedly to deter Israeli air and ground units from destroying major infrastructure on the Egyptian mainland by demonstrating an ability to retaliate with the new Soviet built weapons. While Scud batteries were manned by Soviet operators during the Yom Kippur War, they would later be handed over to Egyptian operators and would remain in service long after Cairo’s pivot towards the Western Bloc under President Anwar Sadat and the cutting of defence ties with the USSR. Egypt would later come to seek an expansion of its ballistic missile capabilities, in part to retain some form of parity with the nuclear capabilities of neighbouring Israel and the vast ballistic missile arsenal of neighbouring Libya. To this end the Egyptian military sought assistance from North Korea from the 1980s, when under President Hosni Mubarak who paid several visits to Pyongyang the two countries took steps towards forming closer defence ties.
While North Korea had begun the mass export of Hwasong-5 missiles, a domestic variant of the Scud B, to Iran to retaliate against attacks by Iraq’s Soviet supplied Scud missiles, Egypt would go on to become a major client for missile systems. With the North Korean military at the time facing a vast arsenal of U.S. made tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea, which America had on numerous occasion threatened to deploy against Korean targets, the country’s pursuit of a ballistic missile program was an attempt to gain some limited parity. The export of these missile systems was a means not only of cementing defence ties with emerging third world partners, but also of gaining several billion dollars in revenue for the country’s defence sector. Much of this would be reinvested in the country’s missile program, allowing it not only to progress rapidly and develop more advanced variants of the Scud design, such as the Hwasong-6 and Hwasong-9, but also to create entirely indigenous missiles such as the Rodong-1 and years later the Musudan, Pukkuksong, Hwasong-12 and other designs which would come to prominence in the early 21st century.
The Egyptian missile forces came to be comprised almost entirely of North Korean designs, and the country had by the 1990s amassed a considerable arsenal of Hwasong-5 and longer ranged Hwasong-6 ballistic missiles allowing it to target much of Israel, Libya and Sudan - all countries with which it has at times had hostile relations. In 1996 CIA sources indicated that Pyongyang was delivering manufacturing facilities to Egypt which “could allow Egypt to begin Scud C (Hwasong-6) series production.” The United States notably considered applying sanctions to the two parties to prevent this proliferation, as while these sales were entirely legal they threatened to undermine Western interests in the region - particularly in East Asia where the increasingly well funded North Korean missile program was doing much to undermine the American advantage and its freedom to project power. The risk of alienating a key ally in Cairo however meant that while Washington frequently raised its concerns with Egypt, which consistently went unheeded, the U.S. would focus its efforts on sanctioning North Korea. As one U.S. official noted at the time: “it is easier for us to focus on rogue states like Iran, Iraq and North Korea (later to be named the Axis of Evil) than to talk about our friends like Egypt or Israel.” Israel for its part was also notably investing heavily in acquiring ballistic missile capabilities, though as its technological base was considerable superior to that of Egypt it had less need to rely on imported systems.
While the U.S. sought to halt the cooperation of the two defence partners, North Korean missile sales to Egypt would only grow in the 1990s. U.S. official noted with much apprehension that not only was Egypt acquiring an arsenal of several hundred Hwasong-5 and Hwasong-6 platforms, but the more sophisticated North Korean Rodong and Toksa may also be sold to the country in the near future. The Toksa was a Korean variant of the Soviet OTR-21 Tochka solid fuelled short ranged ballistic missile, a more sophisticated and versatile missile which the USSR had developed into service to replace the Scud in the late 1970s. The Rodong was an entirely indigenous Korean design - an intermediate range ballistic missile capable of putting U.S. targets on Cheju island and across Japan within strike range. Its induction into service in the North Korean military coincided with a renewed effort to develop nuclear arms, leading to its potential service as a nuclear delivery vehicle. Egypt would go on to acquire the Rodong - allowing it to strike targets across the Middle East as far as Iran as well south east Europe, including Greece, Turkey, Italy and Romania, and Much of East Africa including Ethiopia. The North Korean missile, developed in the 1990s, remains Egypt’ most capable ballistic platform to date. It has also been sold to Pakistan, Iran and Libya, while the Toksa was sold to Syria in considerable numbers as a deterrent against nuclear armed neighbouring Israel.
Egypt would remain a major North Korean defence partner throughout President Mubarak’s 30 year presidency, though ties would notably deteriorate following his ousting in 2011. The country nevertheless provided funds key to kickstarting the North Korean ballistic missile program, and as a leading client for the country’s weapons military cooperation between the two powers remains. Whether Cairo will again in future turn to North Korea to acquire ballistic missiles remains to be seen, but in light of growing security threats faced by the country and a gradual curbing of the sanction regime against Pyongyang it remains a considerable possibility. North Korea certainly has a great deal to offer Cairo today in terms of arms - more than it did in the 1980s, with new missile platforms of all ranges as well as attack and ballistic missile submarines, long range air defence systems and state of the art anti ship cruise missiles being among its recently developed systems..
How Russia Plans to Arm its Su-57 and MiG-41 to Seek and Destroy Upcoming American Sixth Generation Fighters
Eastern Europe and Central Asia , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft
14 July 2018
With Russia’s armed forces currently developing sixth generation technologies for the Su-57 next generation air superiority fighter, which will enter service in large numbers fielding these new systems around the year 2030, reports have increasingly indicated that the fighter is intended primarily not to engage Western fifth generation jets such as the F-22 Raptor - but rather to retain parity with sixth generation U.S. fighters currently being developed under the F-X Air Dominance Program. While Su-57 fighters on order today, and those set to enter service throughout the early and mid 2020s in relatively small numbers, are set to field only fifth generation capabilities, future fighters will deploy sixth generation technologies for the purpose of retaining parity with country’s near peer potential adversaries - which are currently heavily invested in developing sixth generation fighters. With next generation aircraft set to deploy advanced stealth capabilities, far surpassing those of even fifth generation platforms such as the F-22, Russia is reportedly investing in developing radio photonics radar systems for its combat aircraft. These are set to be deployed by Russia’s upcoming MiG-41 interceptor as well as future variants of the Su-57 - and possibly the Tu-160 and PAK DA bombers as well.
Regarding the way photonic radars function and can theoretically be used to provide considerably superior situational awareness to conventional radars, even against stealth targets at extreme distances, experts Fangzheng Zhang, Qingshui Guo and Shilong Pan noted in a recent report: “In the transmitter, a broadband LFM signal is generated by frequency quadrupling of a low speed electrical signal applying a single integrated electro optical modulator. In the receiver, the reflected LFM signal is de chirped to a low frequency signal based on photonic frequency mixing. The implementation of photonic de chirping can directly process high frequency and large bandwidth signals without any electrical frequency conversion. After photonic de chirping, ADC with a moderate sampling rate can be used in the receiver and real time signal processing is realisable. In the proposed system, the bandwidth limitations due to electrical signal generation and processing is eliminated. The maximum operation bandwidth is mainly determined by the electro optical devices, which can be tens or even hundreds of gigahertz. As a result, real time radar detection with a very high range resolution can be realised.” The United States’ own defence sector for its part has reportedly been heavily invested in developing such technologies for some time.
Leading Russian defence contractor Radio Technical and Information Systems, more commonly known as RTI Group, has reported that work on creating a mockup of an X band radio photonic radar system is currently underway, and such a system will be ready in a number of years. These radars will be able to effectively complement advances in air to air missile technology by building a highly accurate photographic image of a target to identify it automatically. They will be able to do so over considerably grater ranges than conventional radars, and will be able to detect advanced stealth aircraft where older radar systems may struggle. RTI reported regarding the development that they planned to have prototypes ready in the near future, though this process would likely take several years, and that the radars “will be able to provide radio wave imaging when an image has greater details with the possibility to identify the target type.” They further noted that photonic radars would be considerably lighter and consume less energy than models currently in use.
Photonic radars are among the many revolutionary new technologies currently being developed for the sixth generation of fighter jets, with other systems including hypersonic missiles, both for air to air and strike roles, as well as combat lasers and new more efficient engines to facilitate both longer range operations and hypersonic speeds. Due to the critical and fast growing importance of satellite systems in modern warfare, systems currently under development for the MiG-41 and possibly a sixth generation variant of the Su-57 are set to allow the aircraft to operate in near space and effectively perform a satellite hunting role. Ultimately while Russia is not investing heavily in manufacturing fifth generation fighter jets, the country is heavily invested in developing new technologies for its fighter fleet to retain parity and possibly even a qualitative edge over its Western rivals. Photonic radars among other systems will be key to Russia’s sixth generation fighters’ ability to engage upcoming sixth generation platforms currently under development in the West.
Russian Supercarrier Coming Soon? Electromagnetic Launch System Currently Being Tested for a Future Carrier - Nasalised Su-57 Likely to Follow
Eastern Europe and Central Asia , Naval
13 July 2018
With much uncertainty regarding the future of Russian naval aviation, and proposals having been made for the commissioning of a large carrier warship under the SHTORM program with capabilities analogous to the U.S. Navy's Gerald Ford Class, a recent statement from Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) has indicated that a large carrier is currently under development. USC President Alexei Rakhmanov stated regarding the program on July 5th 2018: "We closely follow developments in shipbuilding in the leading sea powers and do not sit idle. Work is currently underway to develop systems that can also be used on modern aircraft carriers. For example, we are working on special modifications of new aircraft launch systems.” Considering previous reports regarding Russia’s plans to develop electromagnetic launch systems (EMALS) for its new carriers, with older steam based systems increasingly considered obsolete and set to be phased out of service in the coming years, it is highly likely that the system referred to by President Rakhmanov was an electromagnetic launch system. CEO of the St. Petersburg based Nevskoye Design Bureau Sergei Vlasov has previously stated that Russia had begun work on developing an electromagnetic catapult system for future carriers.
Reports regarding the active development of EMALS technologies, recently developed by the United States and China and inducted into service for the first time in mid 2017 onboard the American supercarrier USS Gerald Ford, somewhat confirms the military’s intention to induct a full sized carrier warship in the near future - possibly under the SHTORM program. These reports coincided with proposals by Russia's United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) to develop a carrier based variant of the Su-57 fifth generation air superiority fighter - which would be able to make full use of of electromagnetic launch systems onboard a future Russian supercarrier. UAC President Sergey Korotkov emphasised regarding the new carrier and the advanced fighter which it would deploy that the fighter would need to be tailored to whichever launch system the warship used - specifying that use of an EMALS system was essential. "If a new carrier is being built, it must have modern features, such as electromagnetic catapults," he stated.
The SHTORM carrier program is heavily based on the Ulyanovsk Class supercarriers laid down in the final days of the Soviet Union which were set to deploy steam catapults for launching fixed wing aircraft - the most advanced launch system developed at the time. With Russia having considerable experience with the design of large carrier warships from the Soviet era, the development of a number of cutting edge systems such as carrier based AWACS platforms and electromagnetic launch systems can go a long way towards modernising the Ulyanovsk design and using it as the basis of the SHTORM design to develop a world leading warship. Whether the increasingly dated Admiral Kuznetsov carrier, a lighter warship which lacks any catapult systems whatsoever and which is currently undergoing an extensive refitting, will remain in service alongside the new carrier, remains to be seen. Russia appears however to be investing heavily in expanding its carrier fleet, having planned four helicopters carriers - estimated to displace 35,000 and 20,000 tons under two classes which are likely to also deploy fixed wing fighter aircraft. This could potentially provide the Russian Navy with a carrier fleet of six warships by the late 2020s - making it the third largest in the world after only China and the United States and marking a considerable improvement from the troubled state of today. These costly plans, as with several of Russia's more ambitious weapons programs, are heavily reliant on vast improvements being made to the Russian economy in the coming six years - without which a supercarrier may well be a luxury the country's armed forces will struggle to afford.
Why America’s Adversaries Fear the F-22; What Makes the Raptor Special
North America, Western Europe and Oceania , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft
13 July 2018
Entering service in December 2005, the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor quickly became the most iconic Western fighter jet of the 21st century and was set to guarantee American air superiority for many years to come. With development having begun in the waning years of the Cold War, in response to the Soviet Union’s development of the Su-27 Flanker which prompted the U.S. military to request a more capable fighter to replace its F-15 and F-14 jets in an air superiority role, the platform evolved considerably over a quarter of century from the drawing board to its induction. The F-22 design borrowed heavily from the F-15, but applied a number of cutting edge new technologies including stealth, pioneered by the F-117 Nighthawk strike fighter, new active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars, two dimensional thrust vectoring for enhanced manoeuvrability and new AIM-120C air to air missiles.
While the F-22 was not the wold’s first stealth aircraft, its stealth capabilities were far above and beyond anything that had come before it and the Raptor remains most effective radar evading fighter in the world today far surpassing newer platforms such as the F-35 and Russian Su-57. Despite requiring a heavily specialised airframe, the F-22 did not significantly compromise its combat performance relative to the F-15 - with its designers managing to develop a fighter of approximately the same size as its predecessor which not only could perform more effectively with a tailored radar cross section reducing profile, but was also far more compact in order to store all its fuel and munitions internally. The American fighter was the first to combine advanced stealth technology with thrust vectoring and other air superiority capabilities, posing an unprecedented threat to enemy fighters which not only could fight and manoeuvre better than its predecessors - but could do so while remaining extremely difficult to target effectively by radar guided munitions. The Raptor's reduced heat emissions from its Pratt and Whitney F119 engines meanwhile made it a challenge to target even for shorter ranged heat seeking munitions. Combined with its high 20km operational altitude inherited from the F-15 and its considerable Mach 2.25 speed, this made the Raptor the most survivable fighter in the world.
One remarkable aspect of the F-22 program was that, despite considerable delays, it was considerably ahead of all competition - largely a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union and sharp contraction of the Russian economy which had been the only near peer competitor in the field of military aviation. In 2014 the Russian Air Force inducted the first Su-35 ‘4++ generation’ fighters into service, which alongside the deployment of new anti stealth air defence systems was seen as Moscow’s response to the Raptor. The Su-35 lacked the F-22’s stealth or its advanced radar capabilities - but heavily compensated for this with superior air to air missiles, a larger missile payload, an infra red search and track system which the Raptor lacked, cutting edge computer architecture and electronic warfare systems which surpassed those of the F-22, and three dimensional thrust vectoring for further enhanced manoeuvrability. This would be followed three years later by a more equal challenger, the Chinese Chengdu J-20 fifth generation air superiority fighter, which was to a far greater extent was a true analogue to the Raptor combining stealth with air superiority capabilities in much the same way. With China investing heavily in improving the stealth capabilities of the J-20, the fighter may well match or surpass the F-22’s survivability in the near future.
The F-22 design revolutionised air superiority with impacts for military aviation across the world, but ultimately due to its cost and the U.S. Obama administration’s failure to foresee a return to what is today termed ‘great power competition’ and the reemergence of major near peer military adversaries the program was terminated with just 25% of the U.S. Air Force’s needs met. Critical in the decision to terminate the F-22 production was not only the high acquisition cost of the fighter, but the operational cost. While overall a success, the program’s most significant shortcoming was its failure to meet one key design criteria - to make an aircraft less costly to operate and easier to maintain than the F-15. The F-22 remains to this day the most costly fighter to operate in the world by a considerable margin, while its extreme maintenance requirements restrict it to flying a sortie less than once a week. This made flying and maintaining the Raptor considerably more difficult and expensive than its predecessor which would have made a large fleet of 750 Raptors, as originally planned, a massive and constant financial drain on the limited resources of the U.S. military.
As a result of its cost and its specialised role as an air superiority platform, the considerably lighter, cheaper, and lower maintenance F-35 - a fifth generation to the F-16 Fighting Falcon as the F-22 was to the F-15 - is set to be relied on far more heavily by the U.S. military. This is despite the F-35’s combat capabilities across the board, including its speed, operational altitude, stealth capabilities, payload, manoeuvrability, and speed, all paling in comparison to those of the elite F-22. Terminating the Raptor program had far more significant implications than just reducing the numbers in service - in that it also considerably undermined the future viability of the cutting edge fighter. With the aircraft out of production, efforts to modernise existing platforms have stalled considerably - leaving the platform at serious risk of being outmatched by fast advancing rival air superiority fighters such as the J-20. Ultimately the Raptor remains by far the most capable Western fighter ever designed and will likely remain so throughout the 2020s. The fighter has the potential to remain highly viable for decades to come, but with the United States today increasingly focusing its efforts towards developing a sixth generation air superiority fighter to replace it in the near future the aircraft’s days as the key guarantor of American air superiority may well be numbered.
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- Still Cost Effective; The F-35 May Be the World's Most Expensive Weapons Program - But it is Set to Become the Cheapest Modern Fighter in the West
- Yak-141 Returns; Vertical Takeoff Aircraft Coming Soon to the Russian Navy?
- North Korean Defence Cooperation with Egypt; How Rodong and Hwasong Missiles Came to Comprise the Bulk of Cairo’s Ballistic Missile Forces
- How Russia Plans to Arm its Su-57 and MiG-41 to Seek and Destroy Upcoming American Sixth Generation Fighters
- Why America’s Adversaries Fear the F-22; What Makes the Raptor Special