The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor continues to rule the skies more than fifteen years after its introduction. Although it is not invulnerable, it is widely regarded as the best air-to-air fighter aircraft in the world. Unlike the F-35 Lightning II, which was intentionally created as a versatile platform to fill multiple roles, the F-22 was solely designed as an air superiority fighter. By all accounts, it has succeeded magnificently in this task.
Despite the plane’s reputation, fewer than two hundred were ultimately built. By comparison, more than seven hundred F-35s have already been built, even though that plane was introduced a decade after the F-22 following multiple delays. More than two thousand F-35s are slated to be constructed over the coming decades.
Why, then, are there so few F-22s? The answer is primarily one of cost: The F-22 is astonishingly expensive, even by the Air Force’s standards.
These costs were outlined in a 2017 report to Congress by the U.S. Air Force, which opposed restarting the F-22 production line. The report stated that a purchase of 194 F-22s, roughly doubling the size of the current F-22 fleet, would have a total cost of $40 to $42 billion. Each aircraft, then, would cost roughly $200 million, significantly more expensive than an F-35A.
The Air Force argued that the money that would be used to purchase additional F-22s would be better spent on other projects. It also observed that, even without cost as the deciding factor, the time required to restart the F-22 production line would mean that the first of the planes would not be ready until the mid to late 2020s. Four years after the report’s publication, a date of around 2030 seems more accurate. By that time, sixth-generation fighter development in the United States, Russia, and China, would be well underway, limiting the F-22 and F-35’s future effectiveness.
“Moving closer to 2030,” the report read, “it is important to acknowledge that threat capabilities have and will continue to evolve at a rapid rate, creating highly contested environments. … A conversation regarding restarting the F-22 production line should include an analysis of what capability and capacity is needed in order to achieve air superiority in future highly contested environments.”
Along these lines, the Air Force recommended that instead of making additional F-22s, it should focus on its Penetrating Counter Air program, designed to create an American sixth-generation fighter jet with the ultimate goal of replacing the F-15 and F-22.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.