Warplanes: Why No F-22 Exports

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December 30, 2005: The U.S. Air Force's F-22 figher has performance that is far superior to that of any other aircraft in service. The combination of speed, advanced electronics, and stealth technology has created such a decisive advantage that F-22s are often matched up against as many as six F-15s to ensure their pilots face a challenge. So why is the F-35, with somewhat lower performance, getting all the export orders?

The first reason is price. The F-22 costs up to 200 million dollars each (without even counting the huge R&D costs). The F-35 costs anywhere from 37 million to 48 million dollars. This means that four or five F-35s could be purchased for the price of one F-22. This is of import to some countries, like Taiwan or Israel, which are already fighting outnumbered. This same dynamic is why the F-16 garnered much larger export orders than the F-15. In fact, only South Korea and Israel feature both planes in their air forces, and the F-16s outnumber the F-15s by a significant margin.

Another reason is carrier suitability. The F-22's naval variant never got past the design stage. The F-35 has two variants suitable for carrier operations - the F-35B is a V/STOL aircraft capable of operating from smaller carriers like the Italian Giuseppe Garibaldi or amphibious vessels like the Tarawa and Wasp classes. The F-35C can operate from conventional carriers like the American Nimitz-class vessels and the British Queen Elizabeth-class.

The third reason is that the United States does not want the F-22's secrets to fall into the hands of a hostile power. China has acquired at least one F-16 from Pakistan, and Russia was once able to acquire an F-14 from an Iranian defector, and the United States got its hand on a MiG-25 Foxbat flown by a Russian defector. There is a chance the F-35 could end up in enemy hands, even with efforts to prevent unauthorized technology transfer. The F-35 will outclass a Rafale, F-15E, or Eurofighter, but against the F-22, it will be outclassed. The Air Force is using the F-22 as part of a high-end/low-end mix with the F-35, much like the F-15 and F-16 were the combination in the 1990s, only the F-22/F-35 combination will be much harder to see, and therefore deadlier. - Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)

 


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