The F-22 is heading for retirement but is getting major upgrades first

  • The US Air Force plans to retire the F-22 in the next decade.
  • The stealth plane will continue to operate until its replacement is online.
  • This means that the Raptor will need to be upgraded in order for it to keep its aerial advantage.

Despite the Air Force’s intention to retire the Raptor within the coming decade, the aircraft is expected to remain in service until its replacement — the Next Generation Air Dominance fighter — comes online.

As a result, updates and upgrades are still underway for America’s F-22 fleet — some of which are intended to offer a bridge between the Raptor and the NGAD fighter to come.

We got a glimpse of what these upgrades will look like thanks to social-media posts by the US Air Force’s Air Combat Command’s General Mark Kelly and the branch’s 2023 budget request.

New stealthy underwing fuel cells and associated pylons were among them. Missiles were also included. What could be new electronic warfare (IRST) or electronic warfare pods?

Gen. Mark D. Kelly (@genmarkkelly), shared this post

The Raptor is a stealth fighter that can fly without external fuel tanks or munitions. The Raptor’s ability to fly over vast expanses like the Pacific, for example, would require it to have more fuel than its internal supplies allow.

The Raptor’s 600-gallon fuel tanks allow it to carry underwing fuel, but these tanks reduce its visibility. The F-22’s new fuel tank is intended to offset some reduction.

F 22 (4)

A F-22 Raptor flying over McEntire Joint National Guard Base on November 2017.

US Air National Guard

The Warzone postedBelow are excerpts of the budget request which provide more details

“Due to the advancements in adversary technologies in detection, emergence of fighter-cargo and refueling platform engagement ranges, future mission execution is critical to provide the Raptor an increased range capability while maintaining your own-ship survivalability.”

The Air Force budget request lists the upgraded fuel tanks as the F-22 Low Drag Tank and Pylon capability, aim for the replacement of the tanks and pylons by a new stealthier design.

This will allow the Raptor fly further without giving away its wings. They are designed to release from the wing and leave behind a smooth surface, which is crucial for maintaining stealth.

“The Warzone states that the pylons are equipped smart rack pneumatic technology to accurately regulate ejection performance, smooth wind swept surface for minimal drag without store,” Warzone adds.

In the Gen. Kelly image, a separate set of underwing pods was also shown. Many believe these pods may be home to a new electronic warfare suite, or the Raptor’s long-awaited IRST capability.

f 22 aim-9x missile fire

On February 26, 2015, an F-22 launched the AIM-9X for its first time.

David Henry/Lockheed Martin

Infrared Search and Track (or IRST) is a passive method of detecting and targeting enemy planes and is one of the most effective ways to engage radar-wicking stealth fighters.

The IRST system identifies heat signatures. This allows stealth fighters like the Raptor, such as the Raptor, to search for enemy jets and not broadcast radar waves that would alert them. It allows fighters to lock onto stealth targets by the heat of their exhaust.

These pods could also be used to house electronic-warfare upgrades that will improve the stealth of the F-22 by jamming enemy radar arrays.

Finally, a new missile couldThe Raptor’s forthcoming (and very secretive) AIM-260 long-range radar-guided, air-to-air missile.

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