Marbles vs. Golf Balls

F-22 Stealth Ability Revealed by USAF

Strategy Page on the F/A-22 Raptor:

It’s RCS (Radar Cross Section) is the equivalent, for a radar, to a metal marble. The less stealthy (and much cheaper) F-35, is equal to a metal golf ball. The F-35 stealthiness is a bit better than the B-2 bomber, which, in turn, was twice as good as that on the even older F-117.

This info was made public in order to drum up interest in cutting F-35 production in favor of more F-22s. I’ve been accused of being anti-Raptor in the past, but while skeptical that the need for 5th Generation fighters is all that great right now, I recognize that not only will it be nice to have some on hand if they’re needed but that by producing them now we retain the capability to build more if the need arises.

However, I’m skeptical of any plan to cut F-35s in order to get more F-22s. I fully realize that F-22s will have a major role to play in any war against a modern military, but F-35s will have many more opportunities to contribute against a much-wider spectrum of foes. When you toss in the fact that the F-35 is not only an inter-service project but an international one, I think it become clear that major cuts in the F-35 don’t make a lot of sense. Besides, cutting Air Force F-35s (the cheapest variants) won’t save nearly as much as cutting the more expensive versions, yet cutting those more-expensive versions won’t work as the Navy and Marines are counting on them for the future.

Even F-35s with golf ball-sized radar cross-sections are overkill for nearly all of our likely foes. While there’s no doubt that having some F-22s available will be crucial, chopping two F-35s for each additional F-22 just doesn’t seem to make sense to ol’ Murdoc.


  1. I think the comparison is slightly misleading, because the radar cross-section of an aircraft is not uniform from all directions and for all frequencies. Still, it’s probably a decent ‘ball park’ guess. I wonder which aspect the metal marble represents – head-on? Well, if it would be possible to hang weapons from underneath an F-22’s wings like the F-35 can do (yes it ruins stealth but that’s true on both platforms), and if they can add to the F-22’s internal AG ordinance library so it can carry more than just a 1000lb JDAM, then I’d say the F-22 would be a reasonable alternative for the air force. The Navy/Marine Corps will still need the F-35. At the very least, I think after F-22’s major production run is finished they should keep the line open with low rate production. The produced aircraft can replace those which crash or wear out, and slowly swell the numbers over time, while costing relatively little to operate over time. Since the F-35 is going to go ahead anyway, why not have a fly-off between them and then it would be possible to make an even better informed decision about whether one F-22 is more useful than two F-35s?

  2. Yes, the F-22 can carry underwing weapons. I believe it has 4 hard points, (2) per wing. IMO – Murdoc have the issue backwards. We need the F-22 a lot more then the F-35. The F-22 is to stealthy and able secure air dominance. The F-35 has stealth, but has a limited aspect stealth (mainly frontal ) Its prime mission is as a light bomber with fighter capabilities. IMO – we would be bettter served with reengined F-15 with inproved radar and avionics. I would also toss in some redesign work to increase ease of maintence and the ability to incorporate upgrades in the future. Stealth & avionics aside, the current F-15 can match and exceed the many of the capabilities of the F-35. Throw in some upgrades and you have a nice bird. As I have commented before, the only F-35 that makes sense is the marine version and the Navy is just well screwed planewise. The F-18 is subpar and the F-35 is second rate (Top end Russian birds will eat them for lunch). The Navy really needs to make a decision – if they are going to keep the carriers they need a real bird. As it stands now, say in 10 years – if China goes after Taiwan and the Airforce does not bail them out- the navy carrier planes are going to get the crap beat out of them.

  3. I think we need both but the F-22 seems to me to be the most importent one. If we can’t command the air then we are up the creek everywhere else and the F-22 will be vital to that. You just brought to our attention some training we did with the Indian air force in which there planes and piolts were able to overwhelm ours with supior numbers. I think thats gonna be the case whereever we go, we will be outnumbered so that means we need the absolute best up there.

  4. > Yes, the F-22 can carry underwing weapons. I believe it has 4 hard points, (2) per wing. It can CARRY them, but can it LAUNCH them? The only documents I’ve seen which talk about the underwing hardpoints for the F-22 are for its ferry configuration, which is where it carries drop-tanks and missiles (which can not be fired). It would make sense that these hard-points can also be used for weapon delivery, but I haven’t seen anything confirming this (possibly because it’s classified). > IMO – we would be bettter served with reengined F-15 with inproved radar and avionics. I would also toss in some redesign work to increase ease of maintence and the ability to incorporate upgrades in the future. An upgraded F-15E would make a better bomber but would be a lot less stealthy. While the F-22 is more stealthy than the F-35, the F-35 is a LOT more stealthy than an F-15. By orders of magnitude. However, if the F-22 was able to carry out all the bombing missions which required stealth, then all that’s needed in addition would be a bomb truck like the F-15E. > …and the F-35 is second rate (Top end Russian birds will eat them for lunch) Only if they can SEE it. I suspect they will not be able to, before they’ve been shot down. However, as stated, the F-22 does all that and more in terms of air combat.

  5. The external weapon load out on a F-22 is not classified. The maximum external missile load is 8 missiles.,14632,Soldiertech_F22,,00.html At issue with the F-22 is not the capability its the certification process. In general, US missile racks are fairly modular so to upgrade a Raptor requires a software upload. The Air Force has not made and issue out of the external stores, so the certification process is not a high priority. If your interested, you can look into a program called SEEK EAGLE. With respect to the F-35 stealth characteristics – the F-35 is not all aspect stealth. Meaning that it is optimized for frontal RCS. So AWACS, look down, and multiple radar sets have a good shot at picking up a F-35. From a tactical perspective. The F-35 is a plane in search of a mission. The F-22 is for air dominance. The ultrastrealth UCAV’s are for taking out high priority targets, you have long endurance UCAV’s for area denial. The F-35 is supposed to replace the F-16 & A-10 in close air support. While I can see the F-16 angle, the A-10 replacement idea is insane. Combining the F-22 & with an upgraded F-15 would makes some sense. The F-15 would have the high power radar for long range sensors and ECM – I could see the F-15 being loaded with long range missiles that would be to large for the F-22. They could hand off the data for the F-22 running silent so they can ambush enemy fighters.

  6. The F-22 could probably drop JDAMs from external hardpoints with a software upgrade. But what about Mavericks? What about iron bombs and CBUs which need to be released at the right time – since it doesn’t currently carry any weapons like that, wouldn’t that require somewhat extensive development and testing? I don’t think it’s quite so easy as just strapping some type of ordinance to the pylons and away you go… My point is, before we can serious discuss the F-22 replacing F-35s, the F-22 should have the capabilities which the F-35 already has developed or at least provided for (how much weapons testing has been done at this point with the F-35 anyway?). I’m sure it can be done, and I’m sure the F-22 could make a good attack aircraft, but it isn’t right now so this talk is a bit premature. Also, do you really want to risk losing a $100m+ fighter to small arms fire? I do think of the two (F-22 and F-35) the F-22 is a better aircraft all-round. But I think the F-22 should be made to perform the F-35’s roles before anyone ditches the F-35. As of now, it can’t. By the way, with the 8-missile 4-tank ferry configuration on that web page, none of those external missiles can be fired. With the 4-missile and 2-tank configuration, they can be. Presumably it would be possible to carry 8 missiles and no tanks, but they didn’t list that configuration for some reason. Perhaps there isn’t much point carrying 12 air-to-air missiles on a single missile and ruining the stealth while doing it. I can’t imagine anything replacing the A-10 until someone develops the A-11.

  7. The F-22 is not a close air support plane. Nor would I expect it to try. That said, it will and does have a tractical bombing role. Small diameter bombs, sensor fused weapons and some iron bomb capasity. I doubt that it will ever use a maverick – those take some serious rewire work, and to be honest – the maverick is on the way out & it would be waste of a F-22 to carry them. Its like putting a sidewinder on a B-52, sure you could do it, but why? That said, the era of a close air jet plane attacking from low altitude is pretty much over.(not that they were all that good to begin with – give me a P-47 any day) Low altitude support is the province of gunships, A-10’s and AC-130 (if they are ever allowed to come out and play during the day) A F-22 at 10K altitude, is just as effective as F whatever. Its all about the guidance systems. Of course the best close support bird in the inventory is the B-52. Nothing beats having BUFF overhead dropping one ton bombs as you wish. Though having a BUFF with 196 small diameter bombs has a nice ring.

  8. Like any other plane in the fleet, we should assume that the Air Force continues to add capabilities to F-22. No question additional ground-attach capability will be added in the future, especially considering its ‘A’ designation was added late in its development cycle. Navy really needs an air-superiority plane, though. Anyone know how easily F-22 could be made carrier-ready? Impossible to believe they’d get the budget to develop a new plane from scratch.

  9. Oh, and I agree that A-10 will not be replaced by F-35. The A-10 proved itself irreplaceable in Iraq. F-35, with a 180 or 220 round gun and small payload is a great AV-HB replacement, but a poor tank-killer. A-10 doesn’t need a full redesign, either. Its a rugged tank killer that flies low-and-slow. It doesn’t need radar-stealth, but it could always use some improved defense against IR threats.

  10. It would be interesting to see the new aircraft getting out of a radar lock by spewing a bunch of rocket propelled crazy ivan golf balls or ball bearings :) Put some color in the trails and it would be a fireworks show, plus the good guy would get away!

  11. Kevin – heh, I love the idea. Sadly, the F-22 has too high a landing speed to be used aboard a carrier, unless you want to build carriers significantly longer than the ones in use today. There is a reason the F-14 had swing wings. The proposed naval F-22 had swing-wings too. It *might* make sense to develop a new version of the F-22 once all the bugs in the current one are worked out but it would be expensive and I think the Navy blew most of their money on the F-18E and F-35 :( Re: A-10. It would be cool if they could make it fly faster and further. Those would be the main improvements I think. Maybe more engine power would help? I find in the simulator with with F-16s, the block 40+ have better range than the block 30+ because the extra engine power lets them climb to altitute faster (waste less fuel at low altitude where the air is thicker) and they can fly at a higher altitude while carrying all those bombs/fuel which is more efficient.

  12. IMO the Navy would have better luck with a Navalized version of the F-23. It has some significant aerodynamic advantages with high angles of attack and the ability to self reoover from spins. The original F-23 design envisioned it being a Navy plan. To make the F-22 navalized now would be a major undertaking. Realistically, I doubt that the navy would go to a F-23 or the F-22. Simply put, they spent their money on the A-12 and F-18 rat holes and now hell bent on sinking what they have left on the DD(X) As for the A-10, more speed is not what needed. Though upgraded engines that are more fuel efficient and tad more powerfull would help. (Full thrust vectoring and canards would be cool) The addtion of FCLAS like system is needed, as is laser dazzeler system. The incorporation of ceramic armor to augment the titanium armor is needed.

  13. James – Wow, talk about ‘bells and whistles’! I’m sure that stuff will all get added one day, but I doubt it will be all at once :) One of the great thing about the A-10 is that it’s cheap and it’s tough. Gotta love that. Maybe that’s why the Air Force is trying to get rid of it. Besides the fact that it exists mostly to support the enemy (i.e. Army and Marines), how can the Air Force stand to fly anything so ugly and so inexpensive? Hehe.. I actually like the way it looks. It’s kind of like a WW2 fighter plane. Not sure where the ugly concept comes from.

  14. rapidly obsolete. how about a fleet of drones smaller then the f-16 each stealthy like the f-35, with an internal weapon bay with room for 8 weapons- amraams, 250lb jdams,harms, etc. combine these with the common aircraft sensor package, and network the whole thing. total situation awareness. rolling in across the country. as planes deploy thier weapons load, they cycle back for rearming. so what does this portend for our fighter aircraft? surge stregth is good (f35) aperiority is good too (f22) will a wave of drones follow the f22 to control the airspace of the battlefield? if so, do we really need the f35 which had tactical bombing as a mission parameter- to be replaced by a persistent loiter of uav’s and bombbuses launching gps guided glidebombs from high altitute- Of course we have significant international comitments on the f35 along with the marines, and the navy’s next generation of fighter jets, and isreal’s commitment not to sell tech to the chinese in return for participating on the f35.. anyway, looks like we’ll do both. I am however voting for the B-747 rather then some overpriced monstrosity of a next generation stealth bomber.

  15. The B7(x)7 meme has been going around for a while, and I’m as interested as the next guy- but as I understand it, the ‘backbone’ of a cargo airframe is in the belly, whereas a bomber requires it to be in the spine. Not to say it can’t be engineered around, though… Probably with an extremely complicated dispenser such as the B-1 uses.