The Insanely Powerful New F-22 Raptor

The Insanely Powerful New F-22 Raptor
The Insanely Powerful New F-22 Raptor

When compared to any potential competitors, the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor is admired for both its air-to-air maneuverability capabilities and dogfighting prowess. The United States Air Force is the sole operator of the Raptor, which was created twenty years ago as part of the ATF (Advanced Tactical Fighter) program. The plane was designed as an air superiority fighter with ground attack, electronic warfare, and signals intelligence capabilities.

How good is the F-22 raptor?

Mach 2 (1,534 mph/2,469 kph) is the maximum speed it can achieve thanks to its two Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines. The F-22 can reach a maximum altitude of 50,000 feet (15 kilometers) and fly for 1,841 miles (2,962 kilometers) before needing to refuel.

The F-22 is fast, but it can't outrun a hypersonic missile, and reports suggest China is thinking about using this technology to take out the U.S.'s best fighter jet. In fact, a Chinese scientist made the bold (if not entirely credible) claim last December that "a ground-to-air hypersonic missile could catch up and destroy an F-22 (Raptor) in seconds if it fired a missile or dropped a bomb from short range."

Threat of Hypersonic Missile

With their "heat-seeking" technology, these missiles could zero in on "practically any target with remarkable accuracy and speed." Researchers speculated that anything moving on the road could be a target, not just stealth aircraft or ships. Military aircraft are both faster and more agile than ground vehicles, which typically travel at speeds of no more than 60 mph and plod across the open water on what is essentially a flat plane.

U.S. Air Force data showed that heat-seeking missiles were responsible for 90% of all aircraft lost in the 1980s, which was also reported by Chinese media, but without mentioning that the United States was responsible for most of those kills. Any missile with a heat sensor can easily zero in on a moving airplane. Heat-seeking, also known as infrared homing, is a method of passively guiding a missile to a target through the emission of infrared electromagnetic radiation.

The Chinese claim hinges on the fact that even if a hypersonic weapon existed, it would still require the aircraft to be relatively low to the ground and at a "small distance" from the target before being fired. That would imply that a faraway F-22 still has time to perform evasive maneuvers. Both the F-22 Raptor and the newer Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning are designed to sneak past enemy air defenses and then launch long-range attacks. A hypersonic or subsonic missile won't do any good if the enemy has no idea the plane is there.

Finally, modern fifth-generation aircraft such as the F-22, developed to be an air superiority fighter, can engage an enemy well outside of visual range. While a hypersonic heat-seeking missile poses some danger, it is probably not as great as the Chinese scientists would have you believe. 

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