Recent "Red Flag" air combat exercises at Nellis Air Force
Base have been dominated by the F-22 again. After a two-decade development
program and tons of criticism about its price tag, the F-22 is proving to be
worth every penny. However, the real process that will make the F-22 dominate
in the air was not so much the lengthy gestation and development of the F-22 by
the United States Air Force, but what is going on now.
exercises like Red Flag, American pilots are learning how to apply the
F-22's strengths in combat situations. This is an old process, and has happened
before. For example, back in early 1942, the Japanese Zero was considered
the best naval fighter plane in the world. Often, U.S. F4F Wildcats were shot
down when they tried to dogfight. However, Navy and Marine pilots eventually
began to learn how to use the strengths of the F4F through tactics like the
Thach Weave, and eventually, the Wildcat was able to hold its own against the
Zero. It worked, but it was expensive in terms of planes - and more
importantly, pilots - lost in battle.
breakthrough in learning a plane's weaknesses and strengths in combat without
the heavy losses began after studies during the Vietnam War indicated that a
pilot's chances of survival increased after the first ten missions he flew.
Today, the mistakes made in those missions don't get made on the battlefield,
they are made during a training exercise like "Red Flag" or the navys
"Top Gun". The razzing from fellow pilots and the resulting
embarrassment might be tough to deal with, but it beats being shot down.
exercises are also showing just how good of a plane the F-22 is. In hundreds of
simulated engagements against multiple aircraft like the F-15 and F-16, the
F-22 has dominated. Still, keeping in mind how the "inferior" F4F was
able to hold its own against the Zero, the Air Force has been emphasizing the
ability of the F-22s to work together with not just F-22s, but other planes.
The latest exercises featured the F-22 working with Tornados, Typhoons, F-15s,
F-16s, F-111s, and F-117s.
Air Force has been serious about making the F-22 the best fighter in the world,
and addressing the issues that come with it. With the R&D costs recouped,
new F-22s will be more affordable to build as long as the production line is
running. That is the only question about the F-22's future. - Harold C.