F-22 vs. F-35: How the US Air Force’s 5th-generation fighter jets stack up

An F-22 and an F-35
An F-22 and an F-35.

  • The F-22 and F-35 are both highly capable, highly advanced stealth fighter jets.
  • They were designed and built at different times to meet different needs and future projections.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Conceived in the ’80s, born in the ’90s, is the F-22 that millennial kid who can’t get a job because of the recession?

On the other hand, the F-35 is that Gen Z kid who has never used a hand-crank to roll up a window but tells you how things ought to be done.

So will the millennial or the Gen Z kid come out on top in this F-22 vs F-35 showdown?

The F-22 Raptor

F-22 Raptor
An F-22 Raptor.

When the idea for an advanced tactical fighter was conceived, Jimmy Carter was still in the White House, East and West Germany were a thing, and al-Qaeda had not been created. Back in 1981, the Air Force was already looking to replace the F-16 and F-15, both children of the ’70s.

In 1985, a request for proposal was issued for an advanced tactical fighter to counter emerging Soviet threats. Stealth and supercruise speed were the emphasized characteristics, and Lockheed and Northrop were the two companies chosen to compete. In 1990, the first YF-22 flew, and Lockheed’s design was chosen in 1991.

The first F-22s and their problems

It wasn’t until 1997 that the first actual F-22 was delivered to the Air Force. Flight testing began at Edwards AFB, CA, and the Combined Test Force received, in total, eight more F-22s to wring out.

After the wring-out phase, Nellis AFB, NV received the first of what were supposed to be 750 Advanced Tactical Fighters (ATFs). In the end, however, only 187 ATFs were delivered.

The biggest problem faced by the F-22 program was not deficiencies in the design or emerging threats: It was the money. The original price for 750 new F-22s was projected to be around $44 billion in 1985 dollars. When production ended in 2011, the estimated cost for 187 of the jets was around $67 billion.

I am not smart enough to figure out that math, but $44 billion for 750 sounds a lot better than a 50% increase in cost for a quarter of the jets.

Oxygen deprivation

F-22 internal weapons bay missile
An Air Force maintainer checks an F-22 at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, August 10, 2020.

The F-22 has been plagued with problems related to its life support systems. Over the life of the program, in at least 25 incidents, pilots have reported hypoxia-like symptoms.

After a fatal 2010 crash was associated with the oxygen system, the aircraft was grounded to determine the cause, and starting in 2012 began being retrofitted with emergency backup oxygen systems.

There were myriad problems that caused the issue, but they culminated in a “hard-to-operate” oxygen backup.

The good things

The F-22 is fast. And maneuverable. Without externally-mounted munitions, its supercruise speed is around Mach 1.8, and more than Mach 2 when using afterburners.

Supercruise is the ability of an aircraft to reach or exceed Mach 1 without the use of afterburners. By reaching a cruise altitude that allows for faster-than-sound travel without afterburners, the F-22 can reach targets faster and with less need for fuel.

With internal weapons bays, the F-22 can maintain aerodynamics and stealth without sacrificing payload. With vectoring engine nozzles (think all-wheel steering in a Formula 1 car), the F-22 is super maneuverable, making it an ideal air-to-air platform, which is why it was originally built. But without solid aerial threats from our adversaries, it fulfills an air-to-ground role.

F-22 Raptor in combat

In 2014, in its first combat role, five years after the Senate voted to kill off the program, F-22s dropped some of the first bombs on the burgeoning ISIS threat in Syria.

The reason an air-superiority fighter was dropping bombs is that there was nothing in the air to counter it. We’re not at war with Russia or China, so the F-22 has no dogfighting adversaries.

Even without dogfighting to do, the F-22 has been involved in the air-to-air interception of Russian bombers and fighters off the Alaskan coast.

The F-35 Lightning II

Air Force F-35 Lakenheath
An F-35 takes off from RAF Lakenheath, April 25, 2017.

The F-35 came out of a desire to create a Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) in the ’80s and ’90s and consolidate combat aircraft requirements into one neat package.

The Marines wanted a jet to replace the Harrier jump jet, and the Air Force and Navy wanted a multi-role attack/fighter replacement for the F-16, F-14, and A-6. When all the requirements were rolled into one, in 1997 Lockheed and Boeing were chosen to produce concepts.

As a joint strike fighter, the F-35 was developed in cooperation with allied nations. Americans, British, Italians, Australians, and others all had a hand in the F-35. After a review of Lockheed and Boeing’s prototypes, Lockheed was chosen to develop the JSF.

The first F-35s

Because the F-35 was to fill a JSF role, it had to meet requirements from a multitude of users rather than a single one.

The F-35A was to be the Air Force variant, optimized for conventional takeoff and landing. The F-35B was the Marines’ short takeoff and vertical landing variant, and the F-35C was meant for the Navy’s carrier operations.

The first F-35A rolled off the line in February of 2006 and was flown in December that same year. The F-35B followed in 2008, and the C followed suit in 2010. Nine F-35s were delivered to the Integrated Test Force at Edwards AFB, where the services worked together to wring out the Lightning II and its variants.

Numerous issues were identified in the testing that led to structure and software redesigns, and some of those problems continue to plague the jet.

Operational F-35

F 35
An F-35.

Both the A and B variants were released for operational training in 2012. The USAF and USMC began training pilots and maintainers soon after, and the F-35 went into service.

Early software deficiencies placed flight restrictions on the jets, but subsequent upgrades have alleviated concerns. In particular, the interconnected mission systems on the aircraft are some of the most complex avionics available.

The Lightning II has a “glass cockpit,” meaning sensors and gauges are displayed on computer screens rather than individual analog instruments. The pilot’s helmet integrates with the aircraft’s avionics suite to provide heads-up display data directly to the helmet.

Using built-in sensors, the helmet can be used to “see through” the aircraft, giving pilots helmet views that would normally only be available on cockpit screens.

The Lightning II in combat

In 2018, Marine aviators carried out the first US combat strikes in the F-35B, successfully destroying ground targets in Afghanistan.

The USAF followed suit in 2019, using two F-35As to destroy an ISIS tunnel network and a weapons cache.

When the F-35C will be used in combat is unknown, but the Navy declared them carrier-ready in early 2021.

The F-22 Raptor vs. the F-35 Lightning II

F-35 and F-22
Two F-35s and two F-22s.

While both aircraft have futuristic shapes and stealth technology, they were built for two distinct roles.

The Raptor is the air-superiority fighter made to out-maneuver and out-perform in a dogfight. The Lightning II is a strike-fighter, meant to strike ground targets hard and fast, and clear the way for advancing forces.

The roles they fulfill are complementary, and the F-22 could even act as an escort for the F-35, ensuring enemy fighters stay off its back.

With close to 2,500 F-35A/B/C planned for the US, the need for F-22 escorts would go unfulfilled. There are only 187 operational F-22s out there, meaning the F-22 vs. F-35 scenario is moot. The Air Force plans to buy 1,763 F-35A, the Marines plan for 353 F-35Bs and 67 F-35Cs, and the Navy has plans for 273 of the F-35C.

In the end, it does not matter which is better, the F-22 or F-35, because they fill different roles. They were designed and built at different times in history, for different needs and future projections. The F-22 program is over; and the F-35 is just beginning.

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The Army is getting new air-defense weapons to deal with deadlier threats from above

Army Stryker Mobile Short Range Air Defense M-Shorad
Mobile Short Range Air Defense system-equipped Strykers with the 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment.

  • The US Army delivered the first four operational Stryker vehicles equipped with the Mobile Short Range Air Defense system.
  • The new Strykers are part of an effort to rebuild the Army’s air-defense capabilities after decades of fighting enemies with little to no airpower.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In an effort to update and upgrade its air defense systems, the US Army delivered the first four operational Stryker anti-aircraft vehicles.

The 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment (5-4 ADA), under the 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, is the first battalion in the Army to test, receive, and field the Mobile Short Range Air Defense (M-SHORAD) system. The 5-4 ADA is based at Shipton Kaserne in Ansbach, Germany.

The M-SHORAD is placed on the lightly armored 8×8 Stryker vehicles. These variants are fitted with an autocannon and a missile launcher capable of firing Hellfire or Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.

They will replace the 1980s-vintage Avengers, a variant of the 4×4 Humvee that can only fire Stingers. The Avenger was less mobile and much more vulnerable.

At one point, the Army had 26 battalions of Avengers. But during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the enemy had little to no airpower, the military neglected its air-defense capabilities.

By 2017, active-duty units were down to just two battalions, with National Guard units having seven.

The skies are once again dangerous

Army Stryker Mobile Short Range Air Defense M-Shorad
A Mobile Short Range Air Defense system-equipped Stryker.

But things began to change.

In 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea it used drones to great effect. Furthermore, the Syrian civil war witnessed the Turkish military forces using drones. Russian and Turkish drones were also used during the war in Libya.

The threat of drone attacks on heavy troop concentrations was brought to the forefront last year during the war over Nagorno-Karabakh. In that conflict, Azeri military forces used Turkish and Israeli drones to devastating effects on heavy Armenian armored formations.

Iran has also developed a large drone fleet. Crucially, it is beginning to show up with its proxy forces in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen where Houthi rebels have launched drone attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities and airbases.

China is likewise developing its drone fleet.

The Army realizes the need for upgraded air-defence systems …

Army Stryker Mobile Short Range Air Defense M-Shorad
Mobile Short Range Air Defense system-equipped Strykers.

Thus, with near-peer competition heating up, the new threat needed to be addressed.

Therefore, the Army began fielding offers to test upgraded air defense systems in 2017. A year later, it awarded a contract to Leonardo DRS Land Systems.

The Leonardo DRS system was placed on the available Stryker A1 platform. It provides maneuver Brigade Combat Teams with a full “detect-identify-track-defeat” capability. This is a requirement to defeat Unmanned Aerial System (UASs), rotary-wing, and fixed-wing threats.

Additionally, the Stryker armored vehicles are better equipped to keep up with armored vehicles when moving cross-country. Thus, they will provide better protection at increased ranges for maneuvering forces.

Last year, the 5-4 ADA selected 18 Air and Missile Defense crewmembers to conduct a six-month initial operational assessment with the prototype M-SHORAD systems. The assessment took place at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.

… and it’s loving it!

Army Stryker Mobile Short Range Air Defense M-Shorad
Air and Missile Defense crew members with 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, work on the M-SHORAD system.

“I developed a passion for this system,” said Spc. Andy Mendoza, a crewmember from the 5-4 ADA in an interview with the Army’s Defense Visual Information Delivery Systems (DVIDS). “We learned how to operate in every position on these, but also how to take care of them. Being one of the gunners selected to be part of that, it was really a huge honor. I’m really proud to be able to bring what I learned back home to the rest of the crew.”

“There’s really no comparison to anything I’ve operated in my career,” said Sgt. Andrew Veres to DVIDS. “Everything in these systems is an improvement – the survivability, mobility, dependability, off-road ability – it gives us the ability to stay in the fight longer.”

The Army plans to add the M-SHORAD system to four additional Air Defense battalions beginning this year.

“The Army’s air and missile defense force structure is growing and modernizing significantly to meet the threats of peer competitors and our obligation and commitment to providing air and missile defense forces to the joint fight,” General John Murray, the commander of the Army’s Futures Command said.

Given General Murray’s comments, it is no surprise that the first upgraded anti-aircraft vehicles were delivered to a unit in Europe.

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3 things you might not know about the vaunted F-15 fighter jet

f 15
US Air Force F-15C Eagles over the island of Okinawa during a solar eclipse.

  • The F-15 has been a workhorse for the US Air Force for more than 40 years.
  • Newer, more sophisticated jets have joined the service in that time, but the F-15 has a few features that keep it in high demand.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Mcdonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle and its subsequent variants have served as America’s workhorse intercept fighters for over 40 years.

For a short time, it seemed as though the F-15 would fade into history as it was being replaced by its stealthy successor, the F-22 Raptor. But the F-22 program ended and its supply chain was cannibalized to support F-35 production.

America’s relatively small fleet of fifth generation air superiority fighters isn’t large enough to replace the venerable F-15. Instead, Uncle Sam has agreed to purchase more fourth generation F-15s to replace those quickly aging out of service.

So what is it about the F-15 that’s so special that America’s Air Force can’t seem to get enough of them? Quite a bit, actually.

It’s the fastest fighter jet in America’s arsenal

f-15 eagle afghanistan

Although the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter tends to garner most of the headlines, the F-15Cs and F-15Ds currently run by the US Air Force actually beat out the F-35 in a handful of crucial air-combat metrics.

The F-35, it’s important to note, wasn’t designed to serve as a dedicated dog fighter: It was built to engage ground targets primarily. The F-15, on the other hand, was designed from the ground up to go toe to toe with the best Soviet fighters in the sky – and back then Russian fighters were really something to be feared.

The F-15’s top speed, of slightly over Mach 2.4 or 1,875 mph, is the subject of a bit of debate, as many claim the powerful fighter can go even faster. Either way, it leaves platforms like the F-35 – with a top speed of just 1,230 mph or so – in its dust.

Even the top-of-the-line F-22 can only achieve Mach 2.2. This gives the F-15 the crown of America’s fastest fighter jet.

It’s got serious range

F-15C Eagle refueling during deterrence patrol
A F-15C Eagle during aerial refueling.

While the US Navy struggles to find ways to increase the operational range of its carrier-based F/A-18 Super Hornets and F-35C Joint Strike Fighters to stretch carrier ops further away from Chinese anti-ship ship missiles, the Air Force’s F-15s are boasting around three times the range of their Navy peers when flying with their three external fuel tanks.

In total, the F-15 can cover around 3,000 nautical miles without needing to refuel. Thanks to its inflight refueling capabilities, it could feasibly even stay airborne and in the fight for as long as the pilot, and its ordnance, last.

It’s got a perfect combat record

US Air Force F-15 Eagle
An F-15 Eagle fires an AIM-7 Sparrow medium range air-to-air missile.

Despite being in operation for over four decades and serving in the air forces of not just the United States, but also Japan, Israel, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Qatar, no F-15 has ever been shot down by an opposing force.

Unlike the F-35 and F-22, which rely on stealth to avoid detection and therefore, engagement, the F-15 has never been sneaky.

Without stealth to protect the aircraft from opposing fighters or ground-based air defenses, F-15 pilots have had to rely on tactics, skill and speed to outmaneuver or entirely avoid enemy contact.

This article was originally published on January 2, 2020.

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The Navy was able to deliver an F-35 engine to an aircraft carrier at sea for the first time

Navy aircraft carrier F-35 engine
Sailors load an F-35C Lightning II power module onto a CMV-22B Osprey aboard Navy nuclear aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, February 11, 2021.

  • The Navy conducted its first successful replenishment-at-sea with an F-35 power module in February, delivering it to the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson.
  • This capability improves the Navy’s carrier strike capability and allows the Marine Corps to provide its own close air support and inland strike capability.
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According to a recent story published in Naval News, for the first time, the power module for the F-35C Lightning II multirole combat aircraft has been delivered by a CMV-22B Osprey to an aircraft carrier at sea, the USS Carl Vinson.

The engine was an F-135 Power Module, which is common to all three variants of the F-35 aircraft.

To the casual observer, this may not seem like an event of much importance, but for the Navy and the Marine Corps that fly the plane, this is a very big deal.

Navy aircraft carrier F-35 engine
Sailors load an F-35C power module onto a CMV-22B Osprey aboard USS Carl Vinson, February 11, 2021.

It is said that when it comes to the art of war, amateurs talk about tactics while professionals talk about logistics. And the F-35 coming into naval service created some unique logistical challenges for the Navy and Marine Corps.

There are some 500 F-35s currently in service building to a peak strength of over 2,400. While the F-35 holds out the promise of incredible performance and combat capability, none of that will matter if these aircraft cannot be sustained while operating at sea.

One of the major problems was that the hot exhaust of the F-35’s engine tended to melt the flight decks of the ships they were landing on. The same problem existed with the V-22 Osprey and its engine nacelles when in the vertical position. The Navy solved that problem by making the decks more heat-resistant.

The F-35 also incorporates an automated parts system that tracks every component installed on this enormously complex aircraft to keep track of its performance and durability. This system has also been plagued with data-entry problems that are still being worked out.

Navy aircraft carrier F-35 engine
Sailors load an F-35C power module onto a CMV-22B Osprey aboard USS Carl Vinson, February 11, 2021.

This is in no way unique to the introduction of a new aircraft into the Navy or Air Force. You can plan very carefully to take all factors into account, but logging hours with the F-35 in the real world is necessary to find problems no one ever thought of. One of those problems for the F-35 was engine swaps.

The Lightning II uses the Pratt and Whitney F-135 Power Module designed to be unplugged and removed from the aircraft. It is then shipped as a single unit to a maintenance facility ashore to be overhauled and then returned to the squadrons as a spare.

Building a fleet of F-35s is pricey, but their construction cost isn’t the only cost involved. To keep these planes flying and fighting requires a very long and expensive logistics “tail” of spare parts and engines. This is why about 70% of the Navy’s weapons budget is just for the sustainment of the weapons it already has.

When it comes to the F-35C and its modular powerplant, the Navy needed to buy hundreds of spare engines that need to be replaced after a certain number of running hours are logged. The problem was how to get them out to the aircraft carriers that have Lightning squadrons.

The F-135 Power Module is a beast in terms of weight and size. It’s over 4,500 pounds and too large to fit into the cargo bay of the ancient C-2A Greyhounds. Further, you cannot just slam the F-35C’s engine onto the deck during a carrier landing and not expect it to be damaged. In contrast, the Osprey will be able to land vertically with a minimum of shock and vibration to the Power Module.

Navy aircraft carrier F-35 engine
Sailors load an F-35C engine module onto a CMV-22B Osprey aboard USS Carl Vinson, February 11, 2021.

Now here is why this rather mundane delivery of an F-35C engine to the Vinson matters so much: If the F-35C is fully sustainable at sea the Navy can roughly double its carrier strike capability and give the Marine Corps the ability to provide its own close air support and inland strike capability without needing a Carrier Strike Group to help them.

Using the fleet’s current amphibious landing ships with flight decks the Navy could put to sea with 24-25 aircraft carriers flying variants of the F-35, instead of just 12 supercarriers. And for Marines landing ashore, it would be its own F-35B in the VTOL variant providing not just close air support for troops on the beach but also a deep inland strike capability.

Studies have shown that smaller carriers are able to rearm and refuel their planes faster (called a sortie rate) than large carriers can. With the VTOL ability of the F-35B, it should be even faster as several could be spotted on the deck of an amphibious vessel at the same time. The F-35B will allow the Marines to replace the FA-18 Hornets, the AV8 Harriers, and EA-6 Prowlers currently in operation.

This ability to sustain the Lightning II at sea is also good news to allied navies, like the British and Japanese, that also fly the F-35 off their smaller carriers, as they will likely want this Osprey variant for their own use as well.

There are still other logistical problems to be worked out. For example, Navy ships and resupply vessels need larger electric motors and specialized skids to sling the power module during replenishment-at-sea operations, and an Osprey variant that can do in-flight refueling for the F-35 is badly needed.

But being able to fly 1,000 miles out to sea and gently land the power module for these aircraft brings us much closer to the game-changer that the Lightning II aircraft promised to be at its inception.

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The Marines are turning to suppressors to make their rifles quieter and their operations more lethal

Marine Corps rifle suppressor
A US Marine uses a suppressor during training at Twentynine Palms, California, October 21, 2016.

  • The US Marine Corps plans to distribute 30,000 suppressors to its infantry, reconnaissance, and special-operations forces by 2023.
  • Suppressors are designed to decrease sound and muzzle flash when a round is fired. For Marines, that means better concealment, better communications, and, in the long-term, potentially less hearing loss.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The US Marine Corps is set to distribute 30,000 suppressors to its infantry, reconnaissance, and special operations forces by 2023.

In 2015, the Marines began a two-year study in an effort to prove the value and benefit that suppressors could have throughout the force. Suppressors, often referred to as silencers, are designed to decrease sound and muzzle flash when a round is fired.

Since suppressors minimize muzzle flash, they are ideal for nighttime operations. One benefit is concealment: With minimal flash, it’s more difficult for the enemy to zero in on one’s position. Another benefit is that Marines can maintain their night vision and not become disoriented.

For operations in general, suppressors allow for better communications between Marines and minimize confusion during a firefight.

In a press release, the Marine Corps Systems Command infantry weapon officer Chief Warrant Officer David Tomlinson said, “I would say the most important thing the suppressor does is allow for better inter-squad, inter-platoon communication. It allows the operators to communicate laterally up and down the line during a [firefight].”

Marine Corps rifle suppressor
A US Marine uses a suppressor during training at Twentynine Palms, California, October 21, 2016.

Another obvious plus for the suppressors is that they minimize hearing loss for active-duty and future veterans.

Maj. Mike Brisker, weapons product manager in the Marine Corps Systems Command, pointed out, “In the big picture, the VA pays out a lot in hearing loss claims. We’d like Marines to be able to continue to hear for many years even after they leave the service. These suppressors have that benefit as well.”

Part of the two-year study was one experiment in 2016 that convinced the Marines that suppressors were the way of the future for the Corps.

Brisker said, “The positive feedback from that experiment was the primary driving force behind procuring suppressors. We’ve had a few limited user experiments with various units since that time, and all of those events generated positive reviews of the capability.”

The suppressors will be used on M4s, M4A1s, and M27s. On average, when these weapons are fired, they release a sound intensity of 140-165 decibels. When a suppressor is applied, the sound level is decreased t0 around 132 decibels.

While this doesn’t sound like a huge decrease, decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale. Therefore, a suppressed weapon’s sound intensity is a thousand times less compared to that of an unsuppressed one.

The Marine Corps is also looking at weapon options that integrate the suppressor into the barrel, which would keep the weapon shorter since a conventional suppressor adds eight to 12 inches in length.

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