Warplanes: June 4, 2003

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In the 1991 Gulf War, 250 F-16s flew 40 percent of the attack sorties, and in 2003, 131 F-16s flew about ten percent of the attack sorties. The heavy bombers (B-1 and B-52) dropped most of the bombs in Iraq. This trend has put more pressure on the F-22 air superiority fighter project. Each F-22 is going to cost over $200 million, versus $38 million each for the latest version of the F-16 and up to $50 million for the new F-35 attack aircraft. The air force is determined to get the F-22 into service, even though the aircraft was designed at the end of the Cold War, as a fighter that could defeat the next generation of Soviet warplanes. The Soviet Union is gone, and so is their next generation of fighters. But the bombing mission is still there. To deal with that, the air force is looking for another $7 billion to develop a bomber version of the F-22. Currently, the F-22 can carry two 1,000 pound JDAM bombs, or eight smaller (250 pound) JDAM bombs internally. However, the F-22 does have four underwing hard points, each capable of supporting a ton of bombs or fuel. Originally, those hard points were not to be used in combat, only for fuel (drop tanks) so the aircraft could fly long missions in situations where tankers are not available. Using a $200 million fighter to carry four tons of JDAMs is pretty expensive, and any stuff hanging from the wings ruins the stealthiness of the aircraft. The air force feels there will be situations where enemy air defenses will be destroyed to the extent that a "dirty" (carrying bombs externally) F-22 can operate. The F-35 can carry as six tons of bombs by hanging some from the wings and  the rest in the  internal bomb bay. This degrades the stealth capability, but there are more radars coming on the market built to detect stealth aircraft, so the F-35 will probably be able to use the greater bombing capability without sacrificing much. And its a much cheaper way to deliver bombs.  The F-35 was designed to address the changing needs of the air force, and it looks like the F-35 will be getting a lot more work in the next decade than the F-22. In response, the air force has taken to calling the F-22 the F/A-22 ("A" meaning attack, as with bombs) and showing pictures of the external hard points carrying bombs. 

 


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