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Air superiority is a constantly evolving practice. From drones to next-generation fighter aircraft, controlling the skies is important to every country’s national security. So, after the United States Air Force fielded its first F-22 Raptors in 2005, air dominance seemed all but total. However, with the F-35 multirole fighter program in full swing and other stealthy fifth-generation fighter airplanes roaming the skies, is the F-22 Raptor still relevant?

The United States Air Force still flies the F-22 Raptor, despite a phase-out by 2030

It’s tough to fathom, but the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor took its first flight in 1997 (as a YF-22). And if you don’t remember, it was a big deal when the United States Air Force (USAF) fielded its first F-22s. With thrust vectoring, stealth technology, supercruise capability, and a previously unheard-of suite of advanced electronic warfare tech the F-22 was an instant asset. It was the first of the operational fifth-generation fighter aircraft. 

Since then, other fifth-gen fighters have entered service, like the Lockheed Martin F-35 II, However, the F-22 Raptor’s story is short of paradigm-altering. After putting just 186 airplanes into service, the USAF scrapped the program. Barring some change of priorities in line with current events, the Air Force has a planned retirement for the fifth-generation fighter aircraft by 2030. What’s more, the USAF Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD), the first of the country’s incipient sixth-generation fighters, is currently in testing, per Forbes

A Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor in the air.
F-22 Raptor | mjf795 via iStock

Given the latest United States Military operations, the move makes some sense. For the better part of two decades, the military has been conducting counter-insurgency (COIN) operations above all else. As such, programs like the United States Marine Corps F-35B, the world’s first stealth vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) multirole aircraft make more sense. Still, that doesn’t mean the F-22 is completely out of tricks. 

The Air Force will continue to fly its stock of F-22s until the model’s planned retirement. In the meantime, the F-22’s vectorable Pratt & Whitney F119 engines push the Raptor faster with sharper maneuverability. However, with rivals like the Russian Sukhoi Su-57 and Chinese Chengdu J-20 already in service, the importance of American fifth-gen fighters (and upcoming sixth-gen fighters) is without question.