What should we expect from successor to stealthy F-22 fighter?

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The F-22 fighter jet is one of the most ambitious military aircraft ever built, packing a stealthy airframe and cutting-edge software and hardware. But the rest of the world isn’t standing still, as Russia and China develop their own stealth fighters and counter-tactics.

The US military is indeed working on a successor to the aircraft, it confirmed last year, but Aviation Week (registration required) has shed light on what we might see in the new plane.

The air force’s General Mike Holmes told the publication that range and increased stealthiness are just two of the key focus areas.

Longer range means that a future fighter wouldn’t necessarily need tankers and could escort the next-generation B-21 bomber on “deep penetration missions”, the publication suggested.

In fact, Libya illustrated the need for fighters with longer range, Colonel Tom Coglitore of the USA’s Air Combat Command told The National Interest late last year.

“The distances to conduct operations in Libya was a challenge. You had aircraft operating from Italy, flying three hours down to the Gulf of Sidra to cover the coast of Libya which is 1100 miles long. You do that math even with fighter airspeeds and you’ll find the surface-to-air threat wasn’t what we were concerned about, the tyranny of distance was itself was the challenge,” Coglitore was quoted as saying.

The follow-up to the F-22 stealth fighter will likely pack longer endurance and improved stealth

The longer range could be achieved via new jet engine technologies, which the military is investigating along with engine manufacturers General Electric and Pratt & Whitney. But another solution could be to simply increase the size of the plane, resulting in a bigger fuel load and weapons load.

Indeed, the weapons load of today’s stealthy fighters is another weakness that would be solved by going larger, Coglitore explained.

“It’s kind of a bummer if you drive three or four hours and you can only carry, say, two bombs or two missiles or whatever and now you have to go home to reload.”

Meanwhile, Holmes says that improved stealth will be a key requirement for the F-22 successor as well. This was despite recent claims by China and Russia of detecting stealth aircraft with new radar technologies.

Russia claims its Sunflower radar is able to detect and track stealthy fighters, although experts say it can’t track a target well enough to guide a missile towards it. Meanwhile, a Chinese military firm has claimed to successfully track a stealth fighter from 100 kilometres away using “quantum radar” technology that harnesses quantum entanglement. However, an expert said that the effective range would be limited due to a phenomenon called “decoherence”.

In any event, Holmes told Aviation Week that stealth and counter-stealth tech is always evolving.

“It’s a cat-and-mouse game, and it’s never over.”

Featured image: Medley and Sky via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0, resized)



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