F-22 Raptor retirement

As already reported, Speaking during the McAleese FY2022 Defense Programs Conference Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., Air Force Chief of Staff, said on May 12, 2021 that the US Air Force (USAF) would have cut its fighter inventory from seven fleets to four, and the F-22 is not on his short list.

Asked to clarify, an Air Force spokesperson said Brown was thinking very long-term and in the context of “a very small fleet,” which will become increasingly hard to support, especially as it passes the 25-year age mark in 2030. The F-22 would “eventually” retire from the inventory, she said, noting the F-22’s likely successor will be the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD).

F-22 Raptor retirement in 2030 not likely

But now the USAF seems to be rethinking its plan to start retiring the F-22 around 2030, as its planned Raptor budget through fiscal year 2029 includes $4.7 billion for procurement and $3.1 for research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E), for a total of $7.8 billion. As reported by Air & Space Forces Magazine although the RDT&E line closes out in FY29, procurement beyond that date—labeled “to completion” in service’s fiscal 2025 budget request documents—comes to $1.2 billion.

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall reveals that the USAF Plans to buy 200 NGAD Fighter Jets and 1,000 Collaborative Combat Aircraft
 Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter rendering

Senior Air Force leaders have described the F-22 program now through 2030 as a “bridge” to the NGAD Fighter. Several have said that the technologies being developed for the F-22 in its waning service years will be directly applicable to NGAD.

A Pentagon official said that the timing of the F-22’s retirement “hasn’t been decided … and it depends on progress with NGAD” and other factors.

The budget assumes the F-22 fleet will be reduced by 32 aircraft, to about 153 airplanes, but the documents say only 142 will receive the full lineup of improvements.

As already reported, the 32 F-22s the USAF wants to retire are of the Block 20 configuration, and Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has said it would cost upwards of $50 million each to bring them up to Block 30, the most up-to-date standard.

According to budget justification documents for the F-22, upgrades over the next five years will include “the air vehicle, engine, Operational Flight Program (OFP), and training systems to improve F-22 weapons, communications, navigation, pilot-vehicle interface, and electronic warfare suite.”

Long-range tanks

F-22 Raptor retirement in 2030 not likely as USAF plans to spend $7.8 Billion through fiscal year 2029
Among the new capabilities being prepared for the F-22 Raptor are the still-classified AIM-260 Joint Advanced Tactical Missile, evoked here in an image released in 2022 by Gen. Mark Kelly, head of Air Combat Command. Developed by Lockheed Martin, JATM is an air-to-air weapon designed to attack targets beyond visual range. It is needed to counter China’s next-generation PL-15 weapon. 

As noted by Air & Space Forces Magazine, ‘updates called out in the documents show the Air Force is giving the F-22 stealthy, range-extending drop tanks, infrared sensors, identification, friend-or-foe improvements, better Link 16 connectivity, software upgrades, and electronic warfare and navigation enhancements, as well as new weapons and hardware changes to make it more reliable and available.

‘The long-range tanks [The program calls for 286 each of the tanks and low-drag pylons—enough to fully equip 143 jets, at two for each jet. They have to work at a speed of at least Mach 1.2] and infrared systems were revealed in artwork released by Air Combat Command in mid-2022, without explanation at the time. Test aircraft sporting the new underwing tanks and IR sensors have since been photographed near western test ranges, but the Air Force has declined to discuss them.

‘The budget documents say the critical design review for the stealthy tanks took place in early 2023 and that technology demonstrations have been underway since. “Required Assets Available” with the tanks, which usually translates to initial operational capability, is set for the second quarter of fiscal 2026.

‘The infrared detection system (IRDS), which is likely to be the two slender, chiseled pods on the outer wing of the F-22 in the artwork, will enter full-up flight test in the first quarter of fiscal 2026. Production is to begin in early 2028, with deliveries the following year.’

Other enhancements

Moreover, the Raptor will receive a sensor enhancement package including IRST and possibly radar and other detection systems. Together, they will ‘improve the F-22’s sensing and tracking and ensures Air Superiority by preserving the first-look, first-shot and first-kill capabilities of the 142 Block 30/35 F-22 aircraft.’

F-22 print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-22A Raptor 192nd Fighter Wing, 149th Fighter Squadron, FF/04-4082 – Langley AFB, VA – 2014

Furthermore, the RDT&E program also includes “Project Geyser,” described as an ‘advanced capability’ that will be assessed for ‘fielding configuration options.’ No details were given about this project, but there will be ‘continued flight demonstrations and … test fleet modification into planned production configuration’ in fiscal 2025.

The F-22

Today the 5th generation F-22 Raptor is still the world’s premier air dominance fighter and a proven strategic deterrent.

In fact, the Raptor characteristics provide a synergistic effect ensuring F-22 lethality against all advanced air threats.

The F-22 features a combination of sensor capability, integrated avionics, situational awareness, and weapons that provides first-kill opportunity against threats. The Raptor possesses a sophisticated sensor suite allowing the pilot to track, identify, shoot and kill air-to-air threats before being detected. Significant advances in cockpit design and sensor fusion improve the pilot’s situational awareness. In the air-to-air configuration the Raptor carries six AIM-120 AMRAAMs and two AIM-9 Sidewinders.

The F-22 has a significant capability to attack surface targets. In the air-to-ground configuration the aircraft can carry two 1,000-pound GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munitions internally and will use on-board avionics for navigation and weapons delivery support. In the future air-to-ground capability will be enhanced with the addition of an upgraded radar and up to eight small diameter bombs. The Raptor carries two AIM-120s and two AIM-9s in the air-to-ground configuration.

F-22 Raptor model
This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

Photo credit: Lockheed Martin and U.S. Air Force