Warplanes: January 10, 2005

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: The recent F-22 production cutbacks raise the question as to whether the United States would have been better off with a much cheaper plane like the Eurofighter. The  cutbacks push the price to $370 million per F-22, compared to $58 million for the Eurofighter.

That said, the two planes are not really the same. The Eurofighter is more of a multi-role strike aircraft, capable of air-to-air combat or strike missions. It is not completely stealthy, either. Also, when it is carrying weapons, the radar-cross section jumps because a number of the weapons (like laser-guided bombs, fuel tanks, and anti-ship missiles) are not stealthy. However, external carriage gives the Eurofighter a payload of seven tons.

The F-22 does have four underwing pylons for external tanks or additional weapons (including JDAMs smart bombs and AIM-120 AMRAAM long range air-to-air missiles). Theoretically, it can carry four JDAMs externally with eight AMRAAMs, in addition to six AMRAAMs and two AIM-9X Sidewinder, short range air-to-air missiles, internally. But the F-22 is far deadlier when it cannot be seen on radar. An internal load enables this plane to remain totally stealthy. This is a huge advantage. Even with external carriage, the F-22 has much less payload than the Eurofighter.

In a day and age where every major power seems to be developing fire-and-forget air-to-air missiles (the American AMRAAM, the French Mica, the British Meteor, and the Russian R-77/AA-12 Adder), stealth matters more and more. The older semi-active missiles like the AIM-7 Sparrow and the Russian AA-7 Apex, often had to be painted by the firing aircrafts radar, which meant they could be detected and outmaneuvered. The new fire-and-forget missiles, guided by an active radar seeker, can often overcome the best efforts to outmaneuver them. The best defense is to not be seen in the first place. If you cant see the incoming plane, you cant hit it. If you cant hit it, killing it is highly problematic.

The F-22 is also capable of carrying bombs internally either two JDAMs or eight small diameter (250 pound) bombs, while carrying two AMRAAMs and two Sidewinders as well. It is small, but the primary mission of the F-22 is to seize dominance of the air. For strike missions, the United States has other aircraft that can drop bombs: The B-52, the B-1B, the B-2, the F-15E, the F/A-18E/F, and the F-35 are all multi-role aircraft with similar or greater capabilities to attack ground targets.

For the members of the Eurofighter consortium, the Eurofighter is a good buy it is being purchased in quantity to replace numerous Jaguars, F-4s, F-104s, and F-5s in the arsenals of the UK, Germany, Italy, and Spain. The Eurofighter is, much like the Rafale, a souped-up F/A-18E with some stealth features. That said, the United States is far better served with a mix of the F-22 and the F-35. At the same time, while the F-22 is a fine aircraft, it has not mastered the ability to be in two places at one time.

The American mix of stealth aircraft might include a third warplane: work started on the FB-22 in 2002, as a potential replacement for the F-15E, giving the United States Air Force probably the largest force of stealth aircraft in the world. This plane would not only carry bomb loads close along the lines of the Eurofighter, but it would be completely stealthy and have a range of 2,575 kilometers. Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)

 


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