TCS Daily


How the F-22 Fights

By Air Force Magazine - March 1, 2001 12:00 AM

The F-22 fighter's unique combination of stealth, speed, range, and sensor fusion will profoundly alter the way the Air Force conducts aerial combat.

"The history of dogfighting shows us consistently that the loser never saw his opponent until it was too late," explained a USAF tactician. "The F-22 will allow us to make this unfortunate situation routine for all our adversaries."

The shorthand description of the F-22's fighting concept is "first look, first shot, first kill." The Raptor will be able to penetrate enemy airspace at high speed, without being detected. Information from AWACS airplanes and other intelligence-gathering systems will be piped into the cockpit. There it will be processed and presented in a simple display which shows the F-22 pilot where he is, where both friendly and hostile aircraft are, their type and heading, and the location and effective range of ground threats, such as surface-to-air missile batteries, shown as red circles on a map. Waypoints on a moving map give the pilot the best route to stay stealthy and avoid known threats.

Weaving among the red threat rings, the F-22 pilot will be able to put himself in the most advantageous position to fire at his opponents, while staying out of reach of their weapons. He will reveal himself only briefly -- as he illuminates his targets with radar and opens the weapons bay doors -- then virtually disappear again.

The F-22 is also at ease operating above 50,000 feet -- well beyond the reach of many SAMs. In some cases, the best departure route may be right over the heads of the defenders.

As the enemy aircraft try to escape his missiles, the F-22 pilot either prepares for a second shot, moves on to new targets, or heads out of the danger zone. His Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles need no further guidance and autonomously find and destroy intended targets. The F-22 will be able to carry six compressed-carriage AIM-120C AMRAAMs in its belly.

It is the ability to positively identify and shoot targets well out of visual range -- and without being detected -- that will enable the F-22 to destroy enemy aircraft at a distance, exposing itself to the least possible risk. Close-in, turning dogfights should be rare.

No Knife Fights

"If I get into a 'knife fight' in the F-22, I've screwed up," the tactician observed. Should that happen, though, the F-22's thrust-vectoring and extreme agility will still give it the edge; the airplane can fly at 60 degrees angle of attack and still point its weapons at an opponent. For the close fight, the F-22 will carry short-range AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles and a 20 mm cannon.

The F-22's capabilities will open up all sorts of new tactics. One F-22 could hang back, well out of enemy missile range, and illuminate targets with radar while another flies on ahead. His wingman, without ever turning on his own radar and revealing his presence, could shoot at them from closer range, using the other F-22's radar lock.

With supersonic cruising speed, the F-22 will also have a "running start" to outpace or outlast enemy missiles that might somehow succeed in obtaining a radar or infrared lock. The extra time will give the aircraft's all-aspect -- any direction -- stealthiness time to work, potentially causing the enemy missiles to lose track and fly harmlessly past. More likely, the F-22 will fly by so quickly that, even if seen, there likely won't be time to spot, track, and shoot at it before it gets out of range.

In the ground-attack mode, the F-22 will similarly streak into the target area, avoiding defenses, release its satellite guided bombs and hustle out before enemy defenses have a chance to react, its exposure time again minimized by stealth and speed. Work on new small smart bombs that achieve the same level of destruction with a lighter, smaller weapon, means the F-22 will be able to attack as many as eight targets per mission in the future.
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