Declassified: F-22 Raptor – America’s Most Powerful Stealth Plane Was Actually “For Sale” with a massive price tag

The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor is one of the most dominant air superiority fighter jets in the world. This twin-engine aircraft can outperform almost any opponent on the planet. Its strength is precisely what kept it from being sold to military forces outside of the United States.

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Long enough ago, in an effort to keep this powerful weapon to themselves, the United States marked the F-22 as “not for sale.” However, he once explored making an export variant of the Raptor.

A brief history of the raptor

In the mid-1990s, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and General Dynamics teamed up to develop an extremely advanced tactical fighter: the F-22. The warplane, intended to replace the F-15, had to combine stealth, integrated avionics and maneuverability.

The first production F-22 was unveiled on April 9, 1997; then entered service in 2005. However, in the following years the program sparked controversies over costs and its adequacy in a post-Cold War period.

The F-22 Raptors

After the collapse of the USSR, the next generation of Soviet fighters that the Raptor was supposed to dominate in aerial combat did not materialize. Thus, the US Department of Defense decided to stop production of the aircraft. The USAF received the last Raptor in 2012.

The aircraft made its combat debut in September 2014 when it conducted coordinated strikes with other fighter jets and bombers in Syria.

Why the ban on exports?

The United States had determined in 1997 that the F-22 Raptor could not be exported, even to allied countries. The government, and in particular Congressman David Obey, feared that the sensitive and covert technologies that entered this powerful warplane could be found and reverse engineered by adversaries of the United States.

The aircraft’s own stealth characteristics, in particular, had to be protected from enemy hands.

This was the official reason given. However, the unspecified reason is believed to be that the United States was wary of Israel transferring technology associated with the Raptor to Russia or China.

As Washington could not distinguish Tel Aviv and deteriorate its diplomatic relations, it instituted an export ban which put this plane out of reach of all potential buyers.

This was done through the Obey Amendment. It was a single sentence added to the 1998 Defense Ministry Appropriations Act. The Obey Amendment said, “None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to approve or authorize the sale of an F-22 advanced tactical fighter to a foreign government.”

The request for F-22

The Raptor has a smaller radar cross section compared to more modern aircraft such as the F-35. The former has a much greater speed, thanks to its two F119 thrust vector turbojets.

These engines not only give the F-22 the ability to cruise at supersonic speeds without afterburner, but also provide super maneuverable flight characteristics. However, this aircraft lacks the modern computer systems and more economical radar absorbing (RAM) materials found in the F-35.

Still, the Raptor beats the less expensive and more flexible versatile F-35 in air-to-air combat. It was therefore in great demand.

F22-Raptor
An F-22 during a demonstration flight. (via Twitter)

Potential customers for the F-22 included Israel, Australia, South Korea, Singapore and the particularly persistent Japan. The potential benefits to the US military industry and greater interoperability with Allied forces might have been good reasons for Washington to explore the possibility of an export variant of the Raptor.

This consideration dates back to 2009, when lawmakers were discussing the possibility of asking the USAF to study the viability of a variant of the F-22.

Export briefing declassified

The USAF released a heavily redacted copy of the briefing that detailed the study’s findings. Work on the study began in December 2009.

It was headed by the Special Programs Division of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Procurement. Similar studies had already taken place in 1998 and 2006. In March 2009, Lockheed Martin also carried out an independent internal export feasibility review.

The study team sketched a theoretical export F-22. They took this drawing from the expected configuration of the last Raptors ordered for the Air Force. The team explored cost considerations based on two possibilities.

The first possibility was that the production of aircraft for Foreign Military Sales (FMS) would immediately follow final orders from the US Air Force. The second was that the production line lay dormant for a while and had to be restarted for FMS.

The first option had an estimated total cost of $ 8.3 billion. A good chunk of the cost would be saved because the Raptor production line does not require a restart. Each jet would cost around $ 165 million apiece due to the various efficiencies achieved through continuous production.

The latter option involved a two-year hiatus from Raptor production. In this case, it would cost around $ 11.6 billion, including a series of 40 planes. The average unit cost of each aircraft has been estimated at $ 232.5 million.

In this scenario, the export variant of the F-22 would be delivered 6.5 years after the formal contract was signed.

None of these options included estimates of the cost impacts of industrial or financial offsets on production. Additional costs associated with training or other assistance needs that client countries would incur were also excluded from the study.

Creating an exportable variant of the F-22 on its own was seen as a difficult task. Indeed, the aircraft was not designed to be exported and is full of sensitive technologies.

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The hunter had at least 3 groups of systems that the US government had never let down in the hands of an ally. The briefing also mentions that no software source code or software documentation for the Raptor should be exported.

The briefing also addressed Lockheed Martin’s deep integration into the operation and maintenance of the US Raptor stockpile, noting that the Air Force paradigm must change to provide “operational sovereignty” to buyers.

So far, all studies regarding F-22 exports have remained only studies, as restrictions on its sales are still in place to this day.

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