Warplanes: March 28, 2005

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U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff John Jumper recently took a check ride in the Eurofighter, making him the first person to have flown both the Eurofighter and the F-22. So far, he is the only person to have done this, and his comments on the two aircraft have raised a point often forgotten by people. That point is that these two aircraft have been designed for different purposes.

The F-22 was intended to be an aerial version of a sniper. It has performed well in tests as a dogfighter, but it is primarily intended to get deep into opposing airspace and to take out the high-value airframes of an opponent. These are better known as airborne early warning planes, taking aircraft, and even the oppositions top fighters. Its chief assets are speed and stealth. To get in close quickly, and to kill its prey with an AMRAAM, then get out. The stealth helps it get in close the speed shortens the reaction time once the plane is detected (stealth technology only reduces the detection range albeit the range is greatly reduced). The F-22 is primarily intended for air-to-air combat. Its secondary role of attack is very limited (two JDAMs or eight GBU-30 or GBU-40 Small-Diameter Bombs), but again, stealth and speed play big roles. The stealth gets the plane close, and the speed gives the target very little chance of reacting before the bombs hit the ground.

This is not to say the F-22 cant handle a dogfight (there are plenty of F-15 and F-16 pilots who have gone head-to-head with the F-22 who will attest to that). However, if the F-22 is in a dogfight, the pilot is not using the aircraft in the most effective manner. With a planned production run of 179 aircraft (or possibly as high as 277), the F-22 is too important to be risked in a dogfight.

The Eurofighter, on the other hand, is a pure multi-role aircraft. This is a plane that, while it has some stealthy features,  is intended to dogfight, win air superiority, or to carry out some attack missions. What roles this plane carries out will often depend on who buys it. Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece, Austria, and the UK are already confirmed buyers, with Norway and Singapore possibly buying additional planes. The current run of Eurofighter is 620 aircraft. The United Kingdom and Germany will both have more Eurofighters than the United States will have F-22s should the planned production cuts to 179 remain in place.

These two aircraft are more akin to complementary parts of a team. The F-22 would kick in the door, so to speak, taking out key points of the defenses, and allowing the Eurofighter (and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter) to follow, carrying out various airstrikes and carrying out the bulk of the air superiority missions. These two aircraft will be the top aircraft for the United States and Europe, respectively in the early 21st Century. Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)

 


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