High flying and fast, the F-22 Raptor stealth jet is by far the most lethal fighter America has ever built. But the Raptor—and indeed all U.S. fighters—have a potential Achilles’ heel, according to a half-dozen current and former Air Force officials.
The F-22’s long-range air-to-air missiles might not be able to hit an enemy aircraft, thanks to new enemy radar-jamming techniques.
The issue has come to the fore as tensions continue to rise with Russia and a potential conflict between the great powers is once again a possibility—even if a remote one.
“We—the U.S. [Department of Defense]—haven’t been pursuing appropriate methods to counter EA [electronic attack] for years,” a senior Air Force official with extensive experience on the F-22 told The Daily Beast.The problem is that many potential adversaries, such as the Chinese and the Russians, have developed advanced digital radio frequency memory (DRFM) jammers. These jammers, which effectively memorize an incoming radar signal and repeat it back to the sender, seriously hamper the performance of friendly radars.
“So, while we are stealthy, we will have a hard time working our way through the EA to target [an enemy aircraft such as a Russian-built Sukhoi] Su-35s and our missiles will have a hard time killing them.”
Worse, these new jammers essentially blind the small radars found onboard air-to-air missiles like the Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM, which is the primary long-range weapon for all U.S. and most allied fighter planes.
That means it could take several missile shots to kill an enemy fighter, even for an advanced stealth aircraft like the Raptor. “While exact Pk [probability of kill] numbers are classified, let’s just say that I won’t be killing these guys one for one,” the senior Air Force official said. It’s the “same issue” for earlier American fighters like the F-15, F-16, or F/A-18.
Another Air Force official with experience on the stealthy new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter agreed.
“AMRAAM’s had some great upgrades over the years, but at the end of the day, it’s old technology and wasn’t really designed with today’s significant EA in mind,” this official said.Like boxers, every missile has a reach, a range, a limit to how far it can hit. In the not-too-distant future, the AMRAAM might also be out-ranged by new weapons that are being developed around the world. Particularly, Russia is known to be developing an extremely long-range weapon called the K-100 that has far better reach than anything currently in existence.
Read more..“While we are stealthy, we will have a hard time targeting Russian Su-35s and our missiles will have a hard time killing them.”