On August 30th, Lockheed Martin pitched a new variant of the F-22 Raptor fighter jet, equipped with the F-35’s more modern mission avionics and some structural changes as reported by Defense One.
It reportedly is one of several options being offered to the US military and allies. Lockheed appears to be exploring how it might upgrade its fighter jets “to counter Russian and Chinese threats anticipated by military officials in the coming decade, according to people with direct knowledge of the plan.”
“You’re building a hybrid aircraft,” David Deptula, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who is now dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies was cited by Defense One. “It’s not an F-22. It’s not an F-35. It’s a combination thereof. That can be done much, much more rapidly than introducing a new design.”
The new F-22 is similar to the one Lockheed is offering to Japan would incorporate the F-35’s modern mission system and “other advancements in the stealth coatings and things of that nature,” according to an unnamed source, familiar with the proposal cited by Defense One.
“There’s a lot of potential in this idea,” Deptula said. “I’m not sugesting that we jump right into it and embrace it, but from the Japanese perspective when they are looking at and willing to invest in this kind of an alternative as opposed to trying to build an indigenous aircraft that’s not going to get close to what an F-22 can already deliver. It’s a smart move on their behalf.”
A Lockheed Martin spokeswoman refused to provide comment regarding the project.
According to Defense One, the proposal resembles the 1990s evolution of the F/A-18 Hornet into the Super Hornet. It was proposed as a low-risk project, however the F/A-18E/F turned out to require a redesign of almost every exterior part. It was troublesome, but ultimately successful.
Lockheed’s proposal comes as the Air Force is evaluating its force structure to meet the objectives, missions and threats set forth into the National Defense Strategy.
In July 2018, Defense One also reported that Boeing was pitching a new F-15 Eagle, using the game plan it applied during its Super Hornet offer. The F-15X is designed to carry more bombs and missiles and new electronics. Unlike the F-22 and F-35, it does not have a stealthy design, however electronic warfare and other equipment can reduce the risk of the jet being shot down.
As cited by Defense One, Deptula argues that buying upgraded F-22s allows the U.S. military to make a small step before buying a radically redesigned sixth-generation fighter jet with technologies that have not yet been proven. “If you take a look just the general areas of aerodynamics, propulsion, low observability, we have not gotten to the point where we can achieve any order of magnitude increases in any one of those areas beyond where we are [with the] F-22 outer moldline,” he said.
The Air Force has budgeted hundreds of millions of dollars to look at the technologies for its future combat aircraft.
On August 29th, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) revealed an investigation that showed serious problems with the F-35, which is also developed by Lockheed Martin. According to the report 19 of the aircraft’s most serious deficiencies were downgraded without any plan to fix them. .” Instead of fixing the deficiencies, they will complete development work and fixes at a later point, with their “newly devised, amorphous “modernization” phase, free of the restrictions and accountability imposed by a budget and milestone baseline.”
Lockheed is also reportedly exploring other technologies such as directed energy and electronic attacks on the F-16, F-22 and F-35. Reportedly, structural changes to the F-35 are also being explored.
“If the US [military] wants to move to a next-generation, air dominance airplane there are lots of options,” the anonymous source familiar with the project said.
Lockheed is also pushing the military to buy more F-35s as a way “to make sure it has more stealth aircraft in the next decade.”
“If you have to fight one of these scenarios [described in the National Defense Strategy], it’s a high-risk situation that would result in a lot of attrition of those fourth-generation airplanes,” the source said. “It’s questionable whether the U.S. could carry out its objectives in those scenarios. I think the U.S. would prevail, but not without risk.”
A F-22/F-35 hybrid which could be procured quickly may be ideal, since the F-35 with all of its problems and delayed development will take years to be complete.