A new report by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Defence (DoD) lambasted the Air Force's poor management of the F-22 Raptor's modernisation program. Modernisation of the F-22 fifth generation fighter, by far the most capable Western fighter ever designed for air to air combat, has long been a high priority for the U.S. military - particularly in light of the development of rival air superiority fighter programs by potential adversaries such as China's J-20 and J-11D and Russia's Su-57 and Su-35. With the Raptor relied on heavily for air superiority, and the next most effective Western air superiority platform being the outmatched and largely outdated F-15 in service since 1976, the importance of modernising the Raptor to be able to meet all challenges cannot be overstated.
The F-22 is in serious need of upgrades, currently running on extremely dated computer architecture by the standards of modern combat aircraft. The Raptor's 105km range AIM-120C air to air missiles are significantly outmatched by rival Russian and Chinese platforms such as the K-77 and PL-21. The U.S. Air Force has long sought to improve the firepower of the F-22 and allow it to operate more advanced air to air missiles such as the AIM-120D and AIM-9X, but upgrade programs such as the Raptor Agile Capability Release have taken years to implement. This is particularly significant considering that China's Chengdu J-20, a direct rival to the Raptor inducted into service in 2017 and deployed to the Pacific theatre, has been upgraded rapidly within months of its induction into service and based on the rate at which its capabilities are being enhanced is set to far surpass the F-22 in the near future.
According to the DoD report, the F-22 program office has failed to generate an appropriate contracting strategy which resulted in significant delays - and most importantly a final product which would likely fail to provide "modernised capabilities necessary to sustain air superiority against rapidly evolving U.S. adversaries." As the program office did not employ an effective contracting strategy, officials were unable to properly incentivise defence contractors which seriously hindered the modernisation program. The offices of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisitions, Technology and Logistics and the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, Acquisition, were also criticised for failing to effectively implement agile software development methods on weapon systems acquisitions.