Critics of the F-22 Raptor – the world’s best fighter – celebrated when, in July, in a simulated, unrepresentative exercise, German Typhoon fighters “defeated” the Raptor. The F-22’s critics thought they had finally found the “evidence” that the F-22 was useless.
But they were dead wrong and had nothing to celebrate.
It turns out that not only was the exercise unrepresentative of the way USAF operates and how air combat is waged, the rules of engagement were set to assume that F-22 pilots and operational planners would actively cooperate in getting themselves killed by:
1) Not using the F-22′s powerful APG-77 AESA radar.
2) Not using any AWACS aircraft.
3) Not following current American fighter doctrine and tactics.
4) Flying at low speeds and low altitudes.
5) Not using the AIM-120D missile with its over 180 km range.
6) Not using any jammers of its own.
7) Not using any towed decoys, chaff, or flares to spoof enemy missiles.
8) Not using a Missile Approach Warning System.
9) Not using the F-22′s kinematic capabilities to outturn enemy missiles.
10) Sending single aircraft rather than groups of 3-4 Raptors (in the July exercise, single Raptors flew against single Typhoons; such combat engagements never occur in reality).
The only thing in which the F-22 is inferior to the Typhoon is that the Raptor lacks an IRST, but that can be easily added to it at little cost to taxpayers.
Moreover, the Typhoon pilots admitted that in Beyond Visual Range combat, the F-22 is undisputably peerless. They merely claimed they can defeat it in close combat by coming and staying as close to it as possible. The F-22’s ignorant critics thought they had found proof of the F-22’s inferiority, and claimed that most A2A combat occurs within visual range.
There are three problems with these claims. Firstly, the F-22 would likely never allow enemy aircraft to come within visual range of it. Secondly, the F-22 is superior to the Typhoon in close combat just as it is in BVR fights. And thirdly, it’s ridiculous to assume that air combat will always be fought predominantly within visual range.
As to the first point, the F-22 has a far better AESA radar and missiles (the AIM-120D outranges the still-not-in-service Meteor by over 20 kms) than the EF-2000, and being itself highly stealthy, it can evade detection until within visual range, while the EF-2000, with its conventional planform, would be detected and shot down by the F-22 from a very long distance.
The AMRAAM, despite its critics’ smears about its accuracy, has a kill probability of 0.59, 1 representing certainty of kill, so two AMRAAMs are enough to guarantee the shootdown of any enemy (0.59 x 2 = 1.18). That’s what fighters do in real combat: launch multiple missiles to ensure that even if one missile misses, another one will hit the enemy.
But let’s assume that all attempts to shoot the Typhoon down Beyond Visual Range fail and the Typhoon makes it close to the Raptor. Would it defeat the F-22 then?
The F-22, despite being larger and heavier, is more agile and more maneuverable (and therefore more fit for close combat) than the Typhoon. The F-22 has a higher thrust/weight ratio (1.26:1, versus the Typhoon’s barely 1.15:1 ratio); its weight isn’t a problem, because its twin engines give it more than enough thrust. Its thrust loading ratio is lower (i.e. better) than that of the Typhoon. Furthermore, the F-22’s engines have Thrust Vector Control capability; the Typhoon’s EJ-200 engines do not. Thus, the F-22 can outturn enemy missiles; the Typhoon cannot.
Moreover, if the Typhoon, for whatever reason, shows its rear end (with its two conventional superhot engine nozzles) to the F-22 (or is spotted from the back by a second F-22), it will be easily and effortlessly shot down with an AIM-9X infrared-guided, heatseeking missile. There is no way that a Typhoon can avoid being hit with a missile once locked on, because, lacking thrust vector control capability, it cannot outturn missiles in combat. The F-22 can, and with slit, stealthy engine nozzles on its rear end, it is far harder to acquire and hit with heatseeking missiles.
Furthermore, while the Typhoon’s PIRATE Infrared Search and Tracking System can detect the F-22 from at least 50 kms, the Typhoon cannot launch infrared-guided missiles until within 25 kms of the Raptor, because that’s how short the range of its most potent IR missile, the IRIS-T, is. The F-22’s most potent IR missile, the AIM-9X, has a range of 35.4 kms. Thus, in close combat, the F-22 can launch IR guided missiles from a longer range.
So it doesn’t matter if it’s Beyond Visual Range or Within Visual Range Combat; the Typhoon is decisively inferior to the Raptor in any case.
Thirdly, it’s completely wrong to assume that all (or even most) future air to air combat will be waged Within Visual Range, despite airpower critic Pierre Sprey’s claims to the contrary. Technology changes overtime, and with it, the way of waging wars.
Radar and missile technology (in the US as well as in Russia and China) has now progressed so much that most future air engagements will be fought Beyond Visual Range (although WVR capabilities will still be important) and their result will be decided by who gets the “first look, first shot, first kill” capability. And that is undisputably the F-22. But if WVR combat occurs – as it will from time to time – the F-22 is, as demonstrated above, decisively superior to the Typhoon in that regime of combat as well.
The Danger Room’s David Axe claimed that:
“Admittedly, advanced air forces plan to do most of their fighting at long range and avoid the risky, close-in tangle — something Gruene acknowledged in his comments to Combat Aircraft. But there’s evidence that, in reality, most air combat occurs at close distance, despite air arms’ wishful thinking. That could bode poorly for the F-22′s chances in a future conflict.”
No, it doesn’t bode poorly for the F-22’s chances, as proven above.
Axe furthermore falsely claims that:
“Given that even the F-22 could find itself in a close-range dogfight, the stealthy jet has other disadvantages besides its heavy weight and large size.”
The F-22 does not have a “heavy weight” or a “large size”, and as demonstrated above, its thrust/weight ratio is superior to the Typhoon’s, as the Typhoon has decisively less powerful engines. So the F-22’s weight and size are NOT disadvantages – especially not vis-a-vis the inferior Typhoon.
“Technical problems forced the Air Force to omit a helmet-mounted sight from the Raptor. This key piece of gear allows pilots in other planes — including the German Typhoon — to lock missiles onto a target merely by looking at it.”
But these technical problems can be easily fixed at little cost to taxpayers, by adding a helmet-mounted sight or the JSF’s Distributed Aperture System to the F-22, just like several other technologies originally developed for the F-35 were added to the F-22 as well. Even if a HMS is not added to the F-22, however, it can still easily turn and shoot at an enemy plane. The Typhoon cannot do that so easily given its decisively inferior thrust/weight ratio.
Axe further assumes, in response to criticism from commenters, that regarding BVR, AMRAAM missiles wouldn’t work, the F-22 wouldn’t be able to accurately identify enemy aircraft despite having an Identify Friend/Foe system, and wouldn’t be allowed to shoot at unidentified aircraft. In other words, he stacks all assumptions AGAINST the F-22, thus rigging the rules to ensure the F-22 would lose. Needless to say, his assumptions (except the third one) are flat wrong.
Thus, when Axe claimed that
“If long-range tactics fail, the F-22 force could very well find itself fighting up close with the latest fighters from China, Russia and other rival nations. And if the Germans’ experience is any indication, that’s the kind of battle the vaunted F-22s just might lose.”
he was dead wrong, because the F-22 would likely prevail in any close combat, whether against the Typhoon or the latest fighters from “China, Russia, and other rival nations”. The F-22 is far superior kinematically, aerodynamically, and in terms of its radar and weapons against the latest fighters fielded by China and Russia. Only the Russian PAKFA and the Chinese J-20 and J-31 have a chance of matching the Raptor.
So, in short, the F-22 is decisively superior to the Typhoon in both BVR and WVR combat, as proven by its superior aerodynamic and kinematic capabilities and by its weapons, not by David Axe’s false claims or the fantasies of German pilots who have never seen real air combat.