Why America's F-22 Raptor Would Destroy Russia or China's Best Fighters
In many ways, the Raptor is the U.S. Air Force’s insurance policy. While the rest of the Air Force has been preparing for and fighting low-intensity warfare scenarios, as an elite vanguard force, the Raptor fleet has focused almost exclusively on defeating the highest-end threats. “We’ve been focused on the high-end threat all along,” Fesler said. “In fact, the departure from standard for us is the times we go over to OIR [Operation Inherent Resolve—the counter ISIS campaign] and do the close air support type missions over there. Low intensity conflict is not our bread and butter.”
Even since the earliest days when the Raptor entered operational testing 2002, the F-22 has performed incredibly well in simulated combat—amassing lopsided victories in the air. Even when flying against the most challenging simulated threats—advanced Russian fighters such as the Su-35 and S-300V4 and S-400—it is exceedingly rare for an F-22 to be ‘shot down’. “Losses in the F-22 are a rarity regardless of the threat we’re training against,” Fesler said.
With Russia and China deploying advanced new fighters and surface-to-air missiles (SAM), the task of gaining and maintaining air superiority over an increasingly more lethal battlespace falls to a small and elite group of U.S. Air Force pilots flying the mighty Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.
Conceived during the waning years of the Cold War, the stealthy high-flying supersonically cruising Raptor was designed to defeat the most fearsome weapons the Soviet Union could hurl at the United States and NATO during a third world war in Europe. However, with the end of the Cold War and subsequent 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, the F-22 was left without a mission—or so it was thought. Indeed, the second Bush and Obama administrations cancelled the F-22 program in 2008 after only 195 aircraft—187 production planes—were ordered because they made the assumption that high-end state-on-state conflicts were a relic of the past. However, as it is becoming increasingly apparent, they were wrong.
Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter spoke about a return to great power competition. “We will be prepared for a high-end enemy. That's what we call full spectrum. In our budget, our plans, our capabilities and our actions, we must demonstrate to potential foes, that if they start a war, we have the capability to win. Because the force that can deter conflict, must show that it can dominate a conflict,” Carter said, speaking at the Washington Economic Club in February. “In this context, Russia and China are our most stressing competitors. They have developed and are continuing to advance military systems that seek to threaten our advantages in specific areas. And in some case, they are developing weapons and ways of wars that seek to achieve their objectives rapidly, before they hope, we can respond.”
Indeed, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia protected the best of its military-industrial capabilities as much as it could during the economic and social meltdown of the 1990s. Despite its severe problems, Russia managed to develop and field advanced weapon systems such as the Su-35S Flanker-E, S-300V4 and S-400 among others. Meanwhile, a rising China modernized its forces in earnest—developing new fighters and new SAM system such as the formidable J-16 and HQ-9. Thus, while Washington took its eyes off potential challengers to focus on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, leaders in Beijing and Moscow continued to modernize their militaries to keep American forces at bay in the event of a future conflict.
Why America Needs the F-22 Raptor (Now More Than Ever):
Now, with voices on the left and the right clamoring for action in Syria, where the Kremlin is propping up its long-time ally—the Assad regime—the Pentagon finds that it has to rely on its tiny fleet of 186 F-22 Raptors if the call comes to establish a no-fly zone or a safe-zone in that war-torn nation. The Raptor is the only operational combat aircraft that the United States operates that Washington can rely on to take-on and defeat advanced air defenses such as the Pantsir-S1, S-300V4 and S-400 that Moscow has dispatched to Syria. Moreover, it is the only aircraft in the U.S. Air Force inventory that possesses a huge performance overmatch against late generation Russian fighters such as the Su-30SM Flanker-H and Su-35S Flanker-E, both of which the Kremlin has also deployed to the region.