How to Defeat the Air Force’s Powerful Stealth Fighter
A contingent of German pilots flying the latest Typhoon fighter have figured out how to shoot down the Lockheed Martin-made F-22 in mock combat. The Germans’ tactics, revealed in the latest Combat Aircraft magazine, represent the latest reality check for the $400-million-a-copy F-22 following dozens of pilot blackouts, and possibly a crash, reportedly related to problems with the unique g-force-defying vests worn by Raptor pilots.
The fast, stealthy F-22 Raptor
is “unquestionably” the best air-to-air fighter
in the arsenal of the world’s leading air force. That’s what outgoing Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz wrote in 2009.
Three years later, a contingent of German pilots flying their latest Typhoon fighter have figured out how to shoot down
the Lockheed Martin-made F-22 in mock combat
. The Germans’ tactics, revealed in the latest Combat Aircraft magazine
, represent the latest reality check for the $400-million-a-copy F-22
, following dozens of pilot blackouts, and possibly a crash, reportedly related to problems with the unique g-force-defying vests
worn by Raptor pilots.
In mid-June, 150 German airmen and eight twin-engine, non-stealthy Typhoons arrived at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska for an American-led Red Flag exercise
involving more than 100 aircraft from Germany, the U.S. Air Force and Army, NATO, Japan, Australia and Poland. Eight times during the two-week war game, individual German Typhoons flew against single F-22s in basic fighter maneuvers
meant to simulate a close-range dogfight.
The results were a surprise to the Germans and presumably the Americans, too. “We were evenly matched,” Maj. Marc Gruene told Combat Aircraft’
s Jamie Hunter. The key, Gruene said, is to get as close as possible to the F-22 … and stay there. “They didn’t expect us to turn so aggressively.”
Gruene said the Raptor excels at fighting from beyond visual range with its high speed and altitude, sophisticated radar and long-range AMRAAM missiles. But in a slower, close-range tangle — which pilots call a “merge” — the bigger and heavier F-22 is at a disadvantage. “As soon as you get to the merge … the Typhoon doesn’t necessarily have to fear the F-22,” Gruene said.
This is not supposed to be the sort of reaction the F-22 inspires. For years the Air Force has billed the Raptor as an unparalleled aerial combatant. Even former Defense Secretary Robert Gates
, who in 2009 famously cut F-22 production to just 187 copies, called the stealth jet “far and away the best air-to-air fighter ever produced”
and predicted “it will ensure U.S. command of the skies for the next generation.” And it’s slowly getting taken off the probation it incurred
after seemingly suffocating pilots.
Admittedly, advanced air forces plan to do most of their fighting at long range and avoid the risky, close-in tangle — something Gruene acknowledged in his comments to Combat Aircraft
. But there’s evidence that, in reality, most air combat occurs at close distance, despite air arms’ wishful thinking. That could bode poorly for the F-22′s chances in a future conflict.
In a 2008 study
(big file!), the Air Force-funded think tank RAND warned against assuming long-range missiles will work. RAND looked at 588 air-to-air shoot-downs since the 1950s and counted just 24 that occurred with the attacker firing from beyond visual range
. Historically, American long-range air-to-air missiles have been 90-percent less effective than predicted, RAND asserted