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North America, Western Europe and Oceania , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft

Final Termination of the F-22 Program Confirmed

June 23rd - 2017

The United States Military's F-22 Raptor air superiority fighter program has been confirmed terminated. The program began in the early 1980s, largely in response to the Soviet development of the Su-27 air superiority fighter and MiG-31 interceptor, to regain a capability advantage in the air for the Western bloc. The complexity of the Raptor's design and pioneering of several new technologies led to it entering service only on 2005. The fighter was set to replace the F-15 Eagle, its fourth generation counterpart in service since 1976, as the United States' primary means of countering advanced aircraft from near peer adversaries such as the USSR. While the U.S. Air Force initially requested 750 Raptors to modernise its capabilities, only 187 ever entered service.

The F-22 retains not only stealth capabilities, but high manoeuvrability, speed and the near unique ability to fire AIM-120C missiles - between them allowing the fighter to combat even the most advanced rival platforms and far surpass the capabilities of the F-15. Upon its entry into service in 2005 the F-22 would remain the world's only fifth generation air superiority fighter for twelve years, matched only in 2017 with the induction of China's Chengdu J-20. Russia's PAK FA is also set to enter service in 2018, and according to its designers is more than capable of matching the Raptor in combat.

With the end of the Cold War the United States military faced significant pressure from its government to reduce its expenditures. As the F-22 was built to counter nations with near peer capabilities, they were no longer deemed critical to the United States' military capabilities - particularly considering that potential adversaries such as Iraq, Iran, Syria and Yugoslaiva did not at the time field any potent air superiority fighters, while the Soviet threat had all but disappeared. This led a reduction of the number of F-22s scheduled for production, the original number having been 750 fighters. The Obama administration ended the program prematurely after only 187 fighters had been produced, a decision met with much criticism within the Air Force at the time. As a result only 25% of the original Air Force demands were met, while no US allies were equipped with the F-22. The naval and strike variants of the F-22, set to replace the F-14 Tomcat and F-15E Strike Eagle respectively, were cancelled entirely.

The F-22 was built specifically to counter the Soviet fourth generation fighters and interceptors and particularly the Su-27 air superiority fighter, both of which were undergoing late flight testing when the US program begun. The United States' only fifth generation air superiority platform remains the country's sole reliable and effective means of countering enemy air superiority fighters. According to a report from the United States Military's Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, the F-22 is today the only fighter capable of matching the Russian Su-35, an advanced modern variant of the Su-27 in service since 2014 in service in both Russia and China and set to be widely exported in future. Following the emergence of military rivals with capabilities nearing parity in the mid 2010s, and the proliferation of advanced air superiority fighters worldwide such as the Su-35 and Su-27, the United States again found itself in need of an advanced air superiority fighter. The Congressional House Armed Services Air and Land Forces subcommittee in 2017 ordered a report to determine whether the program could be revived, which concluded that doing so would not be cost effective and would be highly troublesome. New F-22 fighters would cost over $200 million each due to the expense required to restart the program.

Without the F-22 the United States military finds itself in a highly precarious position. The F-35 is not designed for air superiority, being far smaller, carrying half they air to air payload and being far less maneuverable than the F-22. The United States, and by extension all nations relying on US technology including Japan, Israel, South Korea and GCC and NATO states among others, are therefore either forced to press the fifth generation F-35 into an air superiority role for which it is poorly suited, or else rely on the over forty year old F-15 - which is also incapable of countering modern air superiority fighters such as the Su-35 or J-20. Considering the cost and difficulties of developing a fifth generation air superiority fighter, it is also unlikely that U.S. allies will ever develop their own equivalent to the F-22.

A report from the U.S. Air Force indicated that the F-22 could be cancelled because it was important to prioritize developed of a sixth generation fighter, something currently well under way in the United States. Until these enter service the small F-22 fleet will be the only modern air superiority fighters the U.S. or its allies can field. With this fleet is deployed across the world from Japan to Europe to the Middle East it is terribly overstretched. With no signs of any modern fourth or fifth generation air superiority fighters in development, the U.S. and its allies will be at a distinct arial warfare disadvantage until a sixth generation air superiority fighter can be developed and proliferated. This may lead US allies to turn to alternative sources to defend their airspace in the meantime, and significantly enhances the export potential of Russia's PAK FA and China's J-20. These could even potentially be exported to traditional U.S. clients such as Japan, South Korea, Turkey or Middle Eastern gulf states.


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