Is America Ready for the F-22 Raptor's Retirement?

F-22 Raptor
December 6, 2023 Topic: military Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: F-22 RaptorF-22Stealth FightersAir ForceMilitary

Is America Ready for the F-22 Raptor's Retirement?

The F-22 Raptor’s reign may be coming to an end in the 2030s, but the United States has no intention of giving up its crown.


So, while the Raptor may still be the best pound-for-pound dogfighter around, it would take a massive investment into the platform to bring its avionics into the 21st century and to bring down its immense cost of operation… But even if the Air Force did so, there would still be only 150 or so combat-capable Raptors in existence, with replacement parts still hard to come by and no way to replace airframes that age out of service, are damaged in accidents, or worst of all, shot down in combat.

Despite the Raptor’s incredible capabilities, losing some airframes in a fight with a near-peer like China would be a near certainty. And the fact of the matter is that having the best dogfighter in the world doesn’t help much if you can’t afford to lose any in a fight.



To be clear, the F-22 will almost certainly continue flying for longer than the Air Force is currently letting on, and it will likely remain a fixture of America’s air superiority strategy well into the 2030s. However, in terms of the long timelines of fighter development, the Raptor’s tenure as king of the skies is already in its twilight, with America’s Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program closing fast on the title.

The NGAD fighter, which will get a different name and designation as it approaches service, is expected to become the basis for a new generation of fighters, just like the F-22 before it. What exactly NGAD will bring to bear to earn that distinction, however, remains somewhat unclear.

We know for sure that NGAD will fly alongside a constellation of drone wingmen meant to extend sensor range, engage targets, and potentially even sacrifice themselves on behalf of the crewed fighter. Although a technology demonstrator tied to the NGAD program has already flown (and reportedly broken some sort of record), the general public remains uncertain about what it may even look like, but most official renders show a delta-winged platform with no vertical tail surfaces.

This suggests that NGAD may not only be stealth against high-frequency targeting arrays like the Raptor, but may even be the first stealth fighter that’s also designed to defeat detection against low-frequency arrays that can currently spot most stealth fighters, if not actually provide a target-grade lock. It’s also all but certain that the new fighter will boast a significant increase in range over the F-22, in order to better manage the vast expanses of the Pacific.

However, there’s little indication that this new fighter will bridge combat philosophies quite like the Raptor, likely leaning further into the idea of using sensor fusion, stealth, and advanced beyond-visual-range weapons to take out opponents from greater distances than ever. It’s also entirely likely that this new fighter won’t match the F-22’s aerobatic performance, opting to lean on technology more than brain-mashing dogfighting maneuvers to dominate the skies.

Whether or not that will be the case remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: the Raptor’s reign may be coming to an end, but the United States has no intention of giving up its crown.

Feature image courtesy of the F-22 demo team on Twitter.

This article was written by the editorial team at Sandboxx and first published by Sandboxx News late last year.