The United States Air Force will keep the Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor in service until 2060, extending the life of the aircraft for another 43 years.
All of this is made possible thanks to a series of forthcoming upgrades that will maintain its already robust structure, known more specifically as its aircraft structural integrity program, or ASIP. To pay for it all, $624.5 million dollars in Research Development Test & Evaluation (RDT&E) money and $398.5 million in procurements for hardware and software upgrades are included in the FY18 budget.
As The National Interest reports, the F-22 was built with an 8,000-hour airframe life, but the jet can be flown safely without modifications for up to 12,000 hours and can even max out at 15,000 hours. Tom McIntyre, a program analyst for F-22 requirements at Air Combat Command, said 10 design missions were built into the structure during the late 80s and early 90s:
“That’s what during EMD [engineering, manufacturing, development] we did the full scale testing on against those missions. We came to find out we have not been flying the Raptor nearly as hard as those design missions nor as what we found out during the structural testing, so actually the airframe itself—without any service life extension program—is good out to approximately 2060.”
Corrosion has not been a factor for the F-22 either, unlike the F/A-18 Hornets that the U.S. Navy uses.
In June of 2015, Navy Rear Adm. Michael Manazir said the Hornet fleet required far more maintenance than expected, according to Military.com. Part of the problem, Manazir said, was an assumption the Navy made decades ago that the Hornet, “as a composite aircraft,” wouldn’t need the same level of corrosion-prevention work as “older, mostly metal planes, such as the F-14 Tomcat, A-6 Intruder and the A-7 Corsair II.”
Metal tends to have problems with saltwater, you see.
As for the Raptor, most of its issues dealt with galvanic corrosion tied to the aircraft’s stealth material, though none of it was on any critical airframe structures of the Raptor, McIntyre told The National Interest. To eliminate the corrosion problem, the Air Force is replacing a specific kind of conductive stealth coating.
So we know the Raptor has staying power, but the real challenge is if the upgrades it will undergo stand against China and Russia, both countries that are working to counter the Raptor. So far, the Raptor matches up pretty well against Russia’s Su-30SM Flanker-H and Su-35S Flanker-E, for example.
Additionally, as The National Interest notes, the F-22 may partner with the sixth-generation Penetrating Counter Air (PCA), similar to how fourth and fifth-generation aircraft are partnered up. It would take the place of the F-15C Eagle.
“When the PCA comes online, it will be designed to operate and be interoperable with fifth-generation aircraft such as the F-22 and F-35,” McIntyre said.
“There will come a time whether it is 2030, 2040 or 2050 when the F-22 will be kind of like a fourth-generation aircraft today.”
But don’t expect new F-22 Raptors to roll of the assembly line. It is too expensive.
A new study released this month found that it would cost $50 billion to procure 194 F-22s, estimated to cost between $206 million to $216 million per jet. To put this in context, the F-35 cost per aircraft is around $100 million.
But, at least for folks who are fans of F-22 Raptor will have 43 more years to enjoy the aircraft. In the meantime, check out this mock dogfight between one F-22 against five F-15s: