The Pentagon is blitzing the Pacific with the addition of as many as twenty-five combat-ready F-22s to Guam, a clear display of 5th-Generation air dominance power poised to respond quickly in the event of some kind of fast-emerging conflict.
A report in Forbes Magazine says the newly arriving F-22s, from both Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, says the arriving 5th-generation aircraft will be training, practicing, and preparing for a potential war with China.
While this certainly sends a message regarding U.S. resolve in the region to deter any potential Chinese aggression and likely demonstrate support for Taiwan, the presence of the F-22 also brings a few tactical and operational variables to mind.
For instance, the F-22 is referred to by developers as an “aerial quarterback,” given its ability to employ high-end sensors and communications systems to connect with any accompanying 4th-gen aircraft. This means it is not entirely impossible, particularly given more recent technological upgrades with RF links and communications systems to the aircraft, that the F-22 could function as part of a dispersed, integrated combat network of “nodes” across a massively dispersed area. While the Pacific is widely referred to as presenting a “tyranny of distance” for U.S. and allied forces in the region, the proximity between Guam and Taiwan, coupled with the speed and rapid deployment ability of the F-22, means they could quickly take off to defend Taiwan to counter any kind of Chinese invasion. This introduces the prospect of close air support, because while the F-22 was primarily intended for air-to-air dominance warfare, the jet is also capable of air-ground attack as was demonstrated in 2014 during the jet’s combat debut against ISIS.
Then there is the question of F-22 weapons, which have been overhauled with a massive 3.2b software upgrade in recent years, giving several of its air weapons vastly expanded combat attack capability.
The weapons improvements arm F-22s with AIM-9X Block 2, an adaptation that builds upon the existing Block 1. Raytheon AIM-9X weapons developers explain that the Block 2 variant adds a redesigned fuze and a digital ignition safety device that enhances ground handling and in-flight safety. Block 2 also features updated electronics that enable significant enhancements, including lock-on-after-launch capability using a new weapon data-link to support beyond visual range engagements, a Raytheon statement said.
Another part of the weapons upgrade includes engineering the F-22 to fire the AIM-120D, a beyond visual range Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), designed for all-weather day-and-night attacks; it is a "fire and forget" missile with active transmit radar guidance, Raytheon data states.
All of this raises the key strategic question as to whether the F-22 would prevail in any kind of war against Chinese 5th-generation J-20s or J-31s. Many regard the F-22 as the most dominant air-to-air dominance fighter jet in the world, something which an actual aerial combat engagement against Chinese aircraft could demonstrate in the event of war.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.