The F-22 Raptor Is America's Best Stealth Weapon (And Its About To Get Better)

October 20, 2017 Topic: Security Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: F-22F-22 RaptorMilitaryTechnologyWorldU.S.

The F-22 Raptor Is America's Best Stealth Weapon (And Its About To Get Better)

Big upgrades are in the works. 

Newer F-22s have a technology called Synthetic Aperture Radar, or SAR, which uses electromagnetic signals or “pings” to deliver a picture or rendering of the terrain below, allow for better target identification.

The SAR technology sends a ping to the ground and then analyzes the return signal to calculate the contours, distance and characteristics of the ground below.

The Air Force is now conducting operational tests of new software and weapons technology for the F-22 designed to help modernize the stealth fighter and expand the range of weapons it is able to fire in combat, service and industry officials said.

Air Force officials have told Scout Warrior that, by 2019, the service will begin upgrading F-22 functionality for the AIM-120D and AIM-9X Air-to-Air missiles as well as enhanced Air-to-Surface target location capabilities. The F-22 currently carries the AIM-9X Block 1 and the current upgrade will enable carriage of AIM-9X Block 2.

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Current operational testing of the F-22 is focused upon a 3.2B software upgrade for the fighter, allowing it to quickly integrate weapons upgrades, a story in Aviation Week stated.

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 II also features updated electronics that enable significant enhancements, including lock-on-after-launch capability using a new weapon datalink to support beyond visual range engagements, a Raytheon statement said.

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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. The AIM-120D is built with upgrades to previous AMRAAM missiles by increasing attack range, GPS navigation, inertial measurment units and a two-way data link, Raytheon statements explain.

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The most recent contract award was to Raytheon Missile Systems as the prime contractor in Sep 2017, for software upgrades that will continue to improve the performance of the AIM-120D in an electronic attack environment, Capt. Emily Grabowski, Air Force Spokeswoman, told Scout Warrior in a statement.

"The AMRAAM program continues to increase capability through planned software upgrades to ensure the family of missiles remains viable against ever-evolving threats,"  Grabowski added. "As the most recent AMRAAM missile for the Air Force, the AIM-120D, was operationally fielded in 2015, as a small, light, fast missile with improved capabilities against very low and high-altitude targets in an electronic attack environment."

As the Air Force and Lockheed Martin move forward with weapons envelope expansions and enhancements for the F-22, there is of course a commensurate need to upgrade software and its on-board sensors to adjust to emerging future threats, industry developers explained. Ultimately, this effort will lead the Air Force to draft up requirements for new F-22 sensors.

An essential software adjustment is now being worked on by Lockheed Martin engineers on contract with the Air Force. Work on the software is slated to be finished by 2020, developers added.

A hardware portion of the upgrades, called a “tactical mandate,” involves engineering new antennas specifically designed to preserve the stealth configuration of the F-22.

New antennas have to be first constructed and retrofitted onto the airplane. Because of the stealth configuration putting, antennas on is difficult and time consuming," Lockheed officials said.

The Air Force is in the early phases of designing new sensors for its stealthy 5th-generation F-22 Raptor as it proceeds with software upgrades, hardware adjustments, new antennas and data link improvements designed to better enable to connect the F-22 and F-35 sensor packages to one another, industry and Air Force officials said.

Sensor interoperability, two-way data links and other kinds of technical integration between the two 5th-Gen stealth aircraft are considered key to an Air Force combat strategy which intends for the F-22 speed and air-to-air combat supremacy to complement and work in tandem with the F-35's next-gen sensors, precision-attack technology, computers and multi-role fighting mission ability.

While the F-35 is engineered with dog-fighting abilities, its advanced sensor technology is intended to recognize enemy threats at much further distances - enabling earlier, longer-range attacks to destroy enemies in the air. Such technologies, which include 360-degree sensors known as Northrop Grumman's Distributed Aperture System and a long range Electro-Optical Targeting System, are designed to give the F-35 an ability to destroy targets at much longer ranges - therefore precluding the need to dogfight.

Like the F-35, the latest F-22s have radar (Synthetic Aperture Radar) and data-links (F-22 has LINK 16), radar warning receivers and targeting technologies. Being that the F-22 is regarded as the world's best air-to-air platform, an ability for an F-35 and F-22 to more quickly exchange sensor information such as targeting data would produce a potentially unprecedented battlefield advantage, industry developers and Air Force senior leaders have explained. The combined impact of each of the airplanes respective technological advantages makes for an unrivaled air-combat supremacy, observers have argued.