Magazine article Insight on the News

The F-22 Fighter Puts U.S. on Top

Magazine article Insight on the News

The F-22 Fighter Puts U.S. on Top

Article excerpt

The new F-22 Raptor fighter jet would give the United States clear superiority in the air well into the 21st century -- but is the $85 million price tag too costly?

People are going to be awestruck by this aircraft," declares Col. C.D. Moore, Air Force test pilot and Combined Test Force, or CTF, director for the new Lockheed-Martin F-22 Raptor. And Moore should know. He's spent the last two years in the driver's seat of the F-22 as one of the program's seven test pilots. But Moore isn't the only one enthusiastic about the new fighter. An impressive list of supporters, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, members of Congress and former secretaries of defense are convinced that building and deploying the new fighter would assure that the United States will continue its international air superiority and dominance of the skies. To many critics of the F-22, however, awestruck is precisely the word to use when describing an aircraft that costs more than $85 million. But people such as Lt. Col. Steve Rainey, the first U.S. Air Force pilot to fly the F-22, aren't number crunchers, they are men who put their lives on the line. For them, the bottom line involves asking but one question: "On which side," asks Rainey, "do you want the body bags?"

The F-22 Raptor is 21st-century technology and the Air Force claims it is an integral part of the "tactical aircraft modernization program and key to dominating the skies in 2010 and beyond." Today's premier fighter, the 1970s-technology F-15, will be 25 years old when the F-22 comes on line and, according to the Air Force, "flying the F-15 into combat will be the equivalent of driving a 20-year-old car in the Indianapolis 500." More than that, the supporters of the superstealthy fighter claim that other nations now have fighters on a par with the F-15 or are slated to roll them off production lines during the next five years.

For example, the Eurofighter EF-2000 is superior to all U.S., Russian and European fighters except the F-22. The French Rafale, similar to the EF-2000 and still under development, and the Swedish Gripen are impressive but roughly in parity with current U.S. aircraft. The F-22 Raptor, however, outclasses them in speed, supercruise, maneuverability at supersonic speeds, stealth and integrated avionics. Furthermore, the Air Force claims, the F-22 will provide pilots a new capability never before realized: first look, first shot, first kill.

One of the impressive capabilities of the new fighter is that it will be as much as 80 times less visible than the current F-15, providing the important advantage of first look, first shot, before enemy aircraft even know it's there. Additionally, its stealth allows the fighter to get close to a target and out before the bombs explode. This, coupled with the F-22's ability to operate at altitudes of more than 50,000 feet, puts it out of reach of many surface-to-air missiles, or SAMs. Unlike its predecessors, the new plane also has the ability to supercruise -- to fly at better than Mach 1.5 without using an afterburner, greatly saving fuel. It allows for a hit-and-run before ever being identified or fired on. Finally, the new fighter is extremely agile, with an ability to recover from a 60-degree angle of attack. In all, it is reported to be the most technologically advanced jet ever built.

Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a California Republican and member of the House Appropriations Committee, is the only Navy ace to come out of the war in Southeast Asia. He recently traveled to Edwards Air Force Base to get a firsthand look at the new fighter. In an F-15, the lawmaker and former "Top Gun" pilot flew chase with the F-22 and tells Insight, "The performance of this fighter is superior." He says: "As a member of the Defense subcommittee on Appropriations I thought maybe if I tested it -- took an in-depth look at the capabilities -- we might be able to save taxpayer dollars and possibly some lives. …

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