Last December, Lockheed Martin assembled the last F-22 Raptor ever. It’s the USAF’s one and only fifth-generation fighter (the F-35 is still far from being active). It has never seen combat. It spent part of its life grounded. Now they want to sell you a new one.
The only problem is that the United States military doesn’t really need it.
Lockheed Martin’s sixth-generation proposal appeared on its 2012 calendar, as reported by The Dew Line. It’s not a rendering of a prototype, but a declaration of objectives according to the USAF’s specifications. A wet dream for their fighter program, which will be the heir of the Raptor in 2030. Pure aeroplane porn.
The USAF and Lockheed Martin’s objectives are:
Greatly increased speed, longer range, extended loiter times, multi-spectral stealth, ubiquitous situation awareness, and self-healing structures and systems are some of the possible technologies we envision for the next generation of fighter aircraft.
So they want what the Raptor does but a bit better, yet there’s still no other fighter that can compete with their current wonderjet and there will be no fighters capable of competing with it for decades to come — not to mention that we will not need traditional jets at all by 2030.
The reality is that the Russians and the Chinese will not have a fighter capable of competing with the F-22 or the F-35 Lightning II in two decades.
The Chinese are even further behind. Despite their mighty industrial and economic power, I doubt they would be able to go from their current advanced fighter — the Chengdu J-20 — into something like the F-22. The J-20 is still held by tape and glue.
The level of electronic integration and the complexity of the subsystems required to emulate something like the F-22 is still out of reach for the Chinese or the Russians. Most likely, it will remain like that for many years to come. And by then, the whole paradigm of air warfare would have changed completely.
Drones invading the skies
That’s in fact the main question here, not the money or the enemy: do we really need an aeroplane like this anymore? The shift is already happening everywhere. Fighters are the last step.
Unmanned Fighters would be safe for pilots, they would be harder to detect, they would have a lower cost because they wouldn’t require expensive life support, human-friendly specs and cabin instruments. More importantly, they would be able to do crazy manoeuvres that a human wouldn’t be able to survive. The manoeuvring alone is a good enough argument to ditch the traditional fighter jet model.
I know it’s not romantic — hey, I always dreamed to be a fighter pilot myself — but the fact is that the future of fighter jets is remote control. There will be pilots, but they would not need big birds like the F-X. They will be flying from a bunker in their pyjamas.
At the end of the day, a swarm of low cost fighters and bombers would always be more effective than a couple of hundred super-expensivo jets. It’s a pretty simple equation.
More insane spending
The F-22 Raptor program — the USAF’s fifth generation fighter and arguably the most advanced combat jet in the world — had a final price tag of $US66.7 billion. 196 F-22s were made over 14 years of production. You can count that the new sixth generation jet fighter would cost as much as the F-22. Actually, it would probably be a lot more, judging by Lockheed Martin’s own words:
Next generation fighter capabilities will be driven by game changing technological breakthroughs in the areas of propulsion, materials, power generation, sensors, and weapons that are yet to be fully imagined. This will require another significant investment in research and development from a standpoint of both time and money.
Needless to say, we don’t need to sink more money into something that would be dead on arrival. Instead, they can keep manufacturing and improving the Raptor — just like the aerospace industry kept doing with the F-15, F-16 and F-18 — until they fully develop the lower cost fighter drones. That sounds a lot more reasonable.
So no, we don’t need a Raptor II. It would only be another prohibitively expensive beautiful failure with no rivals to fight against. And that’s the last thing the United States needs right now.