Thursday, December 15, 2005

Never A Fair Fight

"If we go to war tomorrow, the Raptor will go with us."

-- General Ronald E. Keys, USAF

Yes, sports fans, the 27th Fighter Squadron, 1st Fighter Wing is now open for business. The F-22A Raptor has achieved Initial Operational Capability as of today, December 15, 2005. That means that the next time the USAF has to go abroad to spread joy and good cheer amongst our enemies, the Raptor rides shotgun. Anyone who tries to come up and play will pay, and pay dearly, for the privilege.

That sound you just heard was every Chinese, North Korean, Iranian and Syrian military aviator soiling their flight suits in unison.

My brother and I had an argument a long time ago, about whether it was better to have invisibility or super-speed. At the time, I thought being invisible was better.

I was wrong. The correct answer to the question, "Invisibility or super-speed?" is, of course, "Yes."

You really want both. And boy, does the Raptor deliver!

Let's start with stealth. It's not quite invisibility, but it'll do until something better comes along. The F-22A has about the same radar cross-section as a BB, maybe a bit less. It's also designed to minimize its infra-red signature. But mostly, it's built to avoid radar detection. It's also got an advanced suite of defensive electronics, but by current doctrine, the preferred method is to rely on passive detection avoidance.

This is a key advantage. You can't hit what you can't see. And if it can enter the battle area undetected, the first indication that the enemy has that all isn't as it ought to be is when things start blowing up. Then it's a bit late to start searching for the responsible party.

But that's not all. The Raptor is also very, very fast. The other key thing about its design is supercruise, which is the ability to cruise at supersonic speeds without going to afterburner. Specifically, it means cruising supersonically on military power. That's an important distinction. Military power is seventy percent of maximum, non-afterburning thrust. At military power, the Raptor is said to be able to fly at Mach 1.5. This is huge, folks. Faster entry to the battle area means being able to spring the attack before it's expected. Faster exit from the battle area means less opportunity for the defense to organize and react. Faster entry to the battle area means that, if your command and control aircraft detects a strike force forming up in enemy airspace, a group of F-22s can be inserted and disrupt the strike force before it gets underway. With speed and stealth, the Raptor has the capability to dominate the battle space.

But that's still not all. The Raptor packs a heck of a lot of computing power. All sensors are integrated, so that the pilot has an easy-to-understand, no-nonsense view of the space around him. And there's data-linking, too, so that what one Raptor pilot knows, they all know. Nobody's sneaking up on one of these.

And yes, there's more. The F-22 has thrust-vectored nozzles. They can swing in unison to boost pitch rate, or in opposite directions to boost roll rate. The Raptor's nose goes where the pilot wants it, not necessarily where Mother Nature wants it.

Not that it makes so much difference. The F-22 boasts a helmet-mounted gunsight, and its AIM-9X Sidewinders have an imaging infrared seeker that can track targets 120 degrees off-boresight. If it comes down to a dogfight, the other pilot is in one hell of a fix. It probably won't come to that, though. The Raptor will start the party beyond visual range, with a volley of AIM-120 radar-guided missiles. The Raptor's radar can track and engage several targets simultaneously. Most of the Raptor's victims will never know what happened.

And to top it off, it can carry the latest precision-guided munitions, and do so in internal bays. No external pylons to disrupt its clean lines.

It's expensive. All that capability does come at a steep price. But we get our money's worth, all right. From the Raptor's cockpit, you own the sky. Name the odds, they don't matter, you're never in a fair fight.

Come on up and play, boys. We dare you.

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