Any advanced fighter has its flaws, and the American F-22 is no exception.
Since the fighter itself is a system, it is the result of a balance of different conditions and requirements. Any fighter aircraft has certain limitations and the same is true of the US F-22 heavy stealth fighter . As the saying goes, the key is balance.
The F-22 stealth fighter has a number of major shortcomings, first of all, its short range, the F-22 has a combat radius of just over 800 km, so the F-22 looks very “pretty”; If the F-22 does not refuel in the air, then this stealthy No. 1 fighter, like a fighter “around the kitchen, around the house”.
So why is the F-22 so flawed? The reason is that during the Cold War period between the US and the Soviet Union, competing for hegemony, the US believed that the battlefield at that time was mainly in Europe. However, the European countries operate fragmented and are a combination of small countries; In such conditions, it would be a bit wasteful to arrange a fighter with a large range, which is why the F-22 appears to have major defects.
Currently, the US has placed the main battlefield in the Asia – Pacific region; This potential battlefield has the vast Pacific Ocean, so the problem of the short range of the F-22 is a very serious defect. So can the F-22 rely on refueling aircraft? Of course not. Therefore, using conventional refueling aircraft, to refuel in the air for stealth aircraft, will expose the F-22 to its target in the air. At this point, the F-22 lost its most important feature, stealth; So now, the US Air Force is planning for the F-22 variant.
Even after 14 years of service, Raptor is still glorified as the most advanced aircraft in the world. And the most important reason behind is it’s complete mature design in the 5th generation category at this period, unlike the counterparta F-35(having electronical issues), Su-57 (budget issues) and J-20 (performance and stealth issues). F-22 not only guarded United States Air Force but also served in Combat in war torn regions.
However, it is a misconception that F-22 contains every component [and better] currently equipped in advanced fighters in it’s role, that is Air Dominance. Well, it is not true. F-22 arrived in 2005 and we are now living in much more advanced decade. Through this article, we will see what are some technology that is still missing in Lockheed Martin F-22 “Raptor”.
1. Lack of Helmet Mounted Display and Sight (HMDS) system
HMD/S is now very common in aircrafts even in 4th generation. Whether it is MiG-29, Su-30, F-16 or even MiG-21 variants: LanceR and Bison supports Helmet Mounted Sight system. Well, there is no official reason specified why the F-22 is still not upgraded with any HMDS, even when Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) is adopted by major platforms in United States Air Arm.
According to some expert views, the most probable reason is that F-22 simply doesn’t need any HMDS. During it’s devlopment phase, no high off-boresight (HOBS) air-to-air missile was available in the U.S. inventory at the time, and there was almost no work being done on helmet-mounted displays outside of the strike fighter community. There was also a fact that the Raptor carry its missiles in the internal bay, negating the pilot’s ability to manipulate the targeting data for the seeker until after the weapon had been fired. As the AIM-9X is being carried in it’s internal side-bay, the pilot needs to open it during combat so the IIR seeker can lock on the target.
We know that Helmet Mounted Display and Sight gives a sheer advantage to the pilot in short range combat. However, Lockheed Martin was very much confident in F-22’s Beyond Visual Range capability and AIM-120 AAM. They thought that weapons like guns and short range heat seeker missiles are not for 5th generation advanced fighters as they are designed to knock out any adversary from long range and in complete “assasin” way.
1.Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System
However, due to advancement in technology, and universal law of “better late than never”, sometime in 2007, a HMDS program came into consideration, after succesful deployment of Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS).
2. Accurate Ground Strike capability
Yes, I know it is an Air Dominance fighter and don’t need bombing role as the primary objective is handling airborne threats. However, taking the scenario account of Syria, F-22 was deployed for patrols as well as some limited bombing roles.
3. RAM Coating Issues
Radar Absorbent Material (RAM) is the skin of a 5th generation aircraft and it can be said as “blood” for any aircraft in such aircraft. The RAM coaring offers absorbtion of Radio Frequency radiation. This affects the chances of the aircraft to be detected by hostile radar. As high the absorbtion of RF, as low are the chances for the radar to detect the aircraft. However, in contrast to popular belief that 5th gen aircrafts are invisible on radar, RAM and low Radar Cross Section (RCS) only delays the detection time. The enemy radar can still detect the aircraft once it is hit by a specific frequency (that can’t be absorbed by radar).
Corrosion of RAM is one of the most well known issues. In various occasions, F-22s were spotted with rugged airframe and a dirty like texture that later confirmed as breaking of RAM coating. On such occasion was EAA Airventure Air Show held this year in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
In the picture above, you can spot the rugged portion just ahead the canopy. These look like some kind of holes in the surface, but actually it shows that the whole layer of RAM has fallen away. Well, RAM is expensive and needs high price maintenance for proper functioning. The issues are most likely to happen because the aircraft is exposed to friction during high-speed flight, crushing G forces, and the elements accelerating process. It can fixed by applying this high cost coating again and maintain it according to time. Well, air shows are not combat missions where these issues affect the objective. But the problem is….
Even in real combat missions, F-22 face this problem. In August 2019, US Air Force released footages showing fighter aircrafts being refuelled over an undisclosed territory. Later, after analysing the terrain, the location was confirmed as northwestern Syria, hinting that F-22s are redeployed in Syria for ops. It means that Raptors on active duty role are prone to these issues.
4. On-board Oxygen Generation System (OBOGS) failure
Flying a fighter jet is not a very common job. Only the tough get the chance to hold the stick and manuever aircraft and pierce the skies with sonic speed. And once you start climbing, oxygen becomes your best friend, yea just like on the land, but the thing is that the amount of oxygen in high altitudes is not much as compared to average altitude above sea level, where the major proportion if the world lives. There is a case of Hypoxia, where a person face lack of adequate oxygen and starts losing consciousness.
In addition, the F-22 has many other major disadvantages such as, if the F-22’s fuselage loses its stealth coating, it will no longer have stealth features and therefore, F-22 pilots are required in this flight. normal conditions, do not fly at supersonic speeds (above 1,235 km/h); because if you fly at supersonic speed, it will peel off the invisible paint.
The F-22 has very strict maintenance requirements and is surprisingly high cost, so the F-22’s sortie rate is relatively low. There is also the reason why the cost of the F-22 is so high, due to many different reasons, that the unit price of the F-22 has reached more than 250 million USD/unit.
Because the F-22 stealth fighter is so expensive, if it is lost in combat or training, it is difficult to replenish. Due to cost reasons, the F-22 closed its production line early and the large-scale upgrade of the F-22 was plagued with difficulties and problems.
Of course, the disadvantages of the F-22 are only small, the advantages are the main ones; Undeniably, the US F-22 is still the best tactical stealth fighter today.
After all, times have changed, the F-22 has dominated the world for more than 10 years, and the F-22’s retirement is inevitable. But the sad thing is that the previous 4th generation US fighters like the F-15 and F-16 still play a pivotal role, even the F-15 continues to be produced; So is the F-22 a failed design?