Image 1: F-22 design evolution. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin retrieved via Code One Magazine.
Table of Contents
- Intro: Air Superiority 2030 – A Non-Traditional Approach– Part I
- Backgrounder: Fleet Composition & Upgrades – Part I
- F-22A Deficiencies to Correct
- F-22C Enhancements
- Fleet Options & Building the F-22C Super Raptor
- F-22C Strategic Impacts and Implications
Intro: Air Superiority 2030 – A Non-Traditional Approach
In recent months, the remarks of both senior USAF officials and service strategy documents depict a fluid and increasingly questionable approach to conceptualizing, let alone developing, an F-22 replacement. The latest iteration of the F-22 replacement was revealed in June 2016 with the publication of “Air Superiority Flight Plan 2030” which calls for a “penetrating counter air (PCA)” aircraft:
The Air Force must reject thinking focused on ‘next generation’ platforms…Such focus often creates a desire to push technology limits within the confines of a formal program…Capability development efforts for PCA will focus on maximizing tradeoffs between range, payload, survivability, lethality, affordability, and supportability. While PCA capability will certainly have a role in targeting and engaging, it also has a significant role as a node in the network, providing data from its penetrating sensors to enable employment using either stand-off or stand-in weapons. As part of this effort, the Air Force should proceed with a formal AoA in 2017 for a PCA capability. [emphasis added]
Notably absent from the PCA description is maneuverability, the defining characteristic of fighter aircraft for the past century. The description of the PCA is an evolution of earlier USAF remarks which emphasize the service’s desire to develop a non-traditional systems of systems approach to air superiority in the 2030s to the replace the F-22. The study was led by Colonel Alex Grynkewich, a former F-22 pilot, who believes the USAF must invest in high payload-long range capable systems paired with unmanned assets such as the loyal wingman; Colonel Grynkewich discourages using the term “sixth generation” to describe the PCA.
Image 2: Current 6th generation technology development efforts detailed by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). Some of these technologies can be integrated into the F-22 which will be discussed in subsequent articles. Image Credit: John ‘Beach’ Wilcox Director AFRL Munitions Directorate
Lt. General Holmes, Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Plans and Requirements, has been a vocal proponent of a SoS approach with respect to replacing the F-22. This SoS approach would be much more minimalistic in the sense that it would not necessarily produce a sixth generation F-X aircraft. Instead, it would produce several technologies within a shorter time period i.e. 2025 which could be integrated into existing platforms or deployed from modular purpose-built platforms as part of a wider SoS architecture.
‘F-X would have been most likely like a sixth-generation fighter and would have had a 20 or 30-year development programme,’ Holmes said at an Air Force Association forum in Washington DC on 7 April. ‘What we want to try to do is solve the problem faster than that by looking out across the range of options and building what we’re capable of building instead of waiting for the next generation’.
Given the growing traction of those who seek to develop and integrate sixth generation technologies into existing platforms and field new operational concepts in lieu of developing a new fighter (or substantially delaying a 6th generation F-X as a result of upgrades), the option to restart F-22 production merits further consideration. Congressman Randy Forbes (R-VA), Chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee within the House Armed Services Committee, added a provision within the House version of the proposed 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which would order the Air Force to study the costs of restarting F-22 production with a goal of 194 additional airframes; the added 194 would enable the USAF to meet its prior requirement for 381 airframes. While its widely recognized Congressman Forbes likely added the provision to bolster his reelection campaign, which he recently lost the primary for, this article will examine how the USAF could plausibly add additional capabilities to the F-22 fleet via the development of an F-22C “Super Raptor”.
Backgrounder: Fleet Composition & Upgrades
Prior to an analysis of the F-22C and its additional capabilities, a brief overview of the current state of the USAF F-22 fleet is necessary to provide a contextual background. The F-22 program has survived a series of tumultuous political and bureaucratic challenges which have terminated additional procurement, realigned basing, and altered modernization plans. With a national security calculus which put a greater emphasis on non-state actors over great power threats, Congress curtailed F-22 production in 2009 to just 195 airframes of which 187 were delivered to the USAF; Of those 187 airframes, only123 are currently deployed in active combat capable units as primary mission aircraft inventory (PMAI) airframes. The following is a chart provided by Air Combat Command (ACC) which details the current F-22 fleet by base and inventory type. ACC figures account for write-offs, i.e. crashes, but the two test configured F-22As at Edwards AFB, CA are not included by ACC as they are under USAF Materiel Command’s 411th FTS. Thus, the current total F-22 inventory is 183 airframes of all types.
Image 3: Source: ACC A589/8XX, 15 January 2014. Retrieved via “Air Superiority by the Numbers: Cutting Combat Air Forces in a Time of Uncertainty”, pp. 21, Major Taylor T. Ferrell, 2014.
Image 4: “Aerospace Vehicle Programming, Assignment, Distribution, Accounting, and Termination”, pp. 33, 2013.
The USAF had planned to operate 381 F-22As of which 240 would be PMAI status thereby evenly forming 10 fighter squadrons (FS). Standard USAF fighter squadrons generally consist of 24 PAI aircraft and 2 BAI designated airframes; BAI aircraft are still assigned to active squadrons but are often temporarily undergoing programmed depot maintenance (PDM) prior to rotating back into the PMAI fleet such that another two PMAI airframes become BAI and undergo depot maintenance. The 123 PAI airframes, roughly half of the earlier USAF requirement, were originally divided into smaller squadrons of between 18 and 21 PAI aircraft accompanied by 2 BAI airframes. As a result of financial pressures, the F-22 fleet underwent a major realignment in 2011 which was completed in 2014 in which both the 7th and 8th FS at Holloman AFB, NM were reassigned to Joint Base (JB) Elmendorf-Richardson, Tyndall AFB, Nellis AFB, and JB Langley-Eustis. An effort was made to consolidate the newest and most capable F-22As, namely Block 30 and Block 35 airframes, at Elmendorf and Langley while older airframes were assigned to JB Pearl-Hickam and Tyndall such that fleet capabilities are evenly spread between the East and West Coasts.
The largest non-PMAI airframe contingent of F-22As is based at Tyndall AFB within the Tyndall Schoolhouse. These 31 Block 20 configured F-22As assigned to the 43d FS and are utilized to train new Raptor pilots. The next largest contingent of non-PMAI airframes resides at Nellis AFB, NV which are utilized for test and evaluation roles as well the formation of new techniques, tactics, and procedures (TTP) by the 422d test and evaluation squadron (TES) and 433d weapons squadron (WS) respectively; Nellis’ F-22As feature a diverse mix of Block 20, 30, and 35 airframes.
In 2010, the USAF planned to upgrade 149 F-22As with increment 3.1 capabilities bringing them to the Block 30 standard; 87 of these 149 airframes were to be upgraded further with increment 3.2 capabilities such that the final PAI and BAI composition would consist of 63 Block 30, 87 Block 35, and 35 Block 20 F-22As. It’s important to note two write-offs have occurred since 2010 including 1 43d FS Block 20 at Tyndall and 1 Block 30 at Elmendorf within the 525th FS. However, 2015 Government Accountability Office (GAO) documents show that the USAF plans to bring 143 F-22As to the Block 35 standard with full Increment 3.2 upgrades at a total cost of $1.5653 billion and a unit cost of $10.298 million per airframe. These 143 airframes likely consist of 123 PMAI aircraft as well as those squadron’s accompanied 12 BAIs airframes and the remaining 8 airframes would plausibly be assigned to Nellis for TES or USAF Weapons School roles. Major F-22 upgrade programs are detailed below, the upgrades are generally understood to be associated with the following Block designations:
- Increment 2.0 = Block 20 – earlier airframes upgraded to this baseline
- Increment 3.1 = Block 30
- Increment 3.2 = Block 35
Image 5: GAO vs USAF description of F-22 modernization effort components retrieved via CRS. Auto GCAS capability has been withdrawn from the Increment 3.2 upgrade and is now featured within the Update 5 software modification. Much more detailed examination of F-22 upgrades is available here: http://manglermuldoon.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-uncertain-future-of-americas.html
The Update 5 software modification is actively being integrated within the F-22 fleet, “The Update 5 Operation Flight Program (OFP) includes Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (AGCAS), Intra Flight Data Link Mode 5th to 4th generation IFDL capability (IFDL GWY Mode), and basic to Block I AIM-9X missile launch capability". Full AIM-9X Block I capability requires Increment 3.2B upgrades which enable for two-way datalink functionality between the F-22 and AIM-9X; Increment 3.2B is not scheduled to incorporate a Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) which facilitate HOBS. While the AIM-9X integration component of Update 5 is significant, the AGCAS capability is critical to mitigating the potential of future write-offs within the small F-22 fleet. Update 6 appears to be geared towards both denying potential adversaries a source of signals intelligence and bolstering the cyber resiliency of Link-16 and IFDL:
U6 will develop, test and field new capabilities and capability enhancements including changes driven by real world evolving threats, emergency/safety of flight issues, and deficiency reports. U6 Interoperability provides cryptographic updates required by the National Security Agency (NSA) to IFDL, Link-16, and Tactical Secure Voice (TSV) and development to maintain interoperability with the enhancements to Link-16 and Secure Voice networks. The U6 Interoperability program will absorb and build upon the development work already accomplished in the KOV-20 Cryptographic Modernization Program and integrate that development into a single Operational Flight Program (OFP) for fleet release. In addition, U6 Interoperability will develop and deliver software fixes identified as critical to the operational community. - Exhibit R-2, RDT&E Budget Item Justification: PB 2016 Air Force - PE 0207138F: F, 2015. [Emphasis added]
Image 6: The 525th FS based JB Elmendorf-Richardson Alaska have received the Update 5 modification. Image Credit; John Dibbs, Code One Magazine, 2015.
While the current F-22 modernization program represents a holistic approach to increasing the combat capabilities of the fleet with respect to suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD)/destruction of enemy air defense (DEAD) roles, augmenting the F-22’s already formidable beyond visual range (BVR) and within visual range (WVR) capabilities, and improving 4th to 5th generation compatibility – planned upgrades to not remedy deeper design deficiencies within the F-22A. While the F-22 is unambiguously the most lethal air-to-air platform in existence, the F-22 was designed during the 1980s and 1990s under a different threat and technological environment. Namely the F-22’s antiquated internal computing capabilities, software, high maintenance requirements, and limited combat radius degrade the utility of the F-22 within the context of operating in the Asia-Pacific against increasingly capable great power threats. Part II will examine these deficiencies further in preparation for an analysis of what features an F-22C could include which would both correct these shortcomings and add new capabilities to the F-22 airframe.
 Air Superiority 2030 Flight Plan, USAF, May 2016. http://www.af.mil/Portals/1/documents/airpower/Air%20Superiority%202030%20Flight%20Plan.pdf
 “USAF Ordered to Look At Raptor Production Restart”, Combat Aircraft, Volume 17 –Issue 6, pp.8, June 2016.
 “Don’t Call it ‘Sixth Gen’, John A. Tirpak, Air Force Magazine, and April 2016. http://www.airforcemag.com/DRArchive/Pages/2016/April%202016/April%2008%202016/Don%E2%80%99t-Call-it-%E2%80%9CSixth-Gen%E2%80%9D.aspx
 “USAF backs off sixth-gen 'fighter' in quest for air supremacy “, James Drew, April 2016. https://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/usaf-backs-off-sixth-gen-fighter-in-quest-for-air-423994/
 “Facing Election Fight, Forbes Pushes F-22 Revival”, Lara Seligman, April 2016. http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/air-space/2016/04/21/facing-election-fight-forbes-pushes-f-22-revival/83352746/
 “Air Superiority By The Numbers: Cutting Combat Air Forces in A Time of Uncertainty”, Major Taylor T. Ferrell, June 2014.
 “F-22 Raptor Deployment”, Global Security, last modified January 2016. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/aircraft/f-22-deploy.htm
 “Moving Time”, Marc V. Schanz, 2011. http://www.airforcemag.com/MagazineArchive/Documents/2011/September%202011/0911moving.pdf
 “422d TES Order of Battle”, Aviamagazine, last visited June 2016. http://www.aviamagazine.com/factsheets/orbat/422TES/index.aspx
 “USAF debates major upgrade for F-22 Raptors”, Stephen Trimble, August 2010. https://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/usaf-debates-major-upgrade-for-f-22-raptors-345808/
 DEFENSE ACQUISITIONS Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs, “F-22 Increment 3.2B Modernization (F-22 Inc 3.2B Mod)”, pp. 137-138, March 2016. http://www.gao.gov/assets/680/676281.pdf
 “Exhibit R-2, RDT&E Budget Item Justification: PB 2016 Air Force - PE 0207138F: F”, USAF, 2015. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/budget/fy2016/usaf-peds/0207138f_7_pb_2016.pdf
"Air Force F-22 Fighter Program", Jeremiah Gertler, July 2013.
"Final Environmental Assessment for Force Structure Changes at Langley Air Force Base, VA", ACC, 2011.
"F-22 Fleet Database", F-16.net
"F-22 Raptor History", Global Security, last modified January 2016.
"F-22 Raptor in Action", Lou Drendel, Squadron Signal, June 2011.
"Langley receives last Raptor, completes fleet", Chase S. DeMayo, 2007.
"Program Profile: F-22", Aviation Week Intelligence Network, last visited June 2016.