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When the F-15 Eagle entered service in the mid-1970s, it was billed as the air superiority fighter for the US Air Force. When the F-22 Raptor entered service, it was billed as the air dominance fighter. What’s the difference? Trying to fight against the Raptor is like bringing a knife to a gun fight.
The F-22 took an extraordinary period of time to develop prior to entering service, but the aircraft represents the integration of major advances in avionics, aerodynamics, flight control laws, stealth, and propulsion. Its gestation may have been long, but it has developed a significant leap in manned fighter capabilities.
Despite the aircraft’s capabilities, the F-22 took a lot of flak from the press and others for becoming the most expensive fighter ever produced. What gets overlooked all-too-often is that it costs X dollars to develop an aircraft. The cost of that development is spread across the number of aircraft built. As the Air Force and Congress tried to ‘save money’ by cutting the number of aircraft built, the cost of development is spread across fewer airframes and the cost per airframe skyrockets. This vicious cycle of ‘saving money’ resulted in the Raptor setting new records for cost, not because the aircraft is expensive, but because of the politics of ‘saving money’. It shouldn’t be any surprise that the F-35 Lightning II has already surpassed the cost of the F-22 and the F-35 was supposed to be the ‘budget’ model.
While the Raptor has not seen combat to date, the aircraft have deployed around the world to practice the Air Force version of the Navy’s old ‘gunboat diplomacy’, putting potential trouble makers on notice that their air and air defenses will become smoking holes in the ground should they wish to test their knives in the next gun fight.