A friend gave me the idea for the Fighter/Attack/Recon/Cargo/Electronic warfare version of the F-22 Raptor not long after the added the ‘A’ designation. Now they’re hyping it as an electronic anti-IED platform, noted at the POGO blog. The source material is only available via paid subscription, so I can’t give you any details. But at a time while some are calling for cuts in F-35 production to build additional F-22s, I’ve got to wonder how serious this claim really is. I don’t always agree with POGO (folks, that’s ‘understatement‘), but I’ve got to agree with them on this one.
First, let me be very clear: If the F-22’s electronics suite is capable of countering IEDs, let’s bring it on. If all that’s needed is a slight modification to the existing hardware or some new software, that’s a no-brainer. The POGO entry seems to make it sound like they’re talking about an anti-IED specialty variant of the Raptor. I find that extremely unlikely. Most probably they’re talking about upgrading them all to include the capability.
Second, they’ve been hyping the electronics capabilities of the Raptor for some time, and that’s a good thing. Here are a couple interesting ones from C4ISR Journal: Supersonic SIGINT Is Back: ISR Sensors Built Into F/A-22, JSF Fuselages and Agile radar beams: Active electronically scanned arrays energize fighter performance.
But this claim, coming right now, seems a bit contrived. Maybe Murdoc’s just a bit jaded. I’d sure like to know more details about the proposal, but, then, I’m sure the IED makers would, too.
Anyway, if Raptors can do it, let’s go for it. However, I’m not expecting to see F-22s screaming down to clear roads ahead of supply convoys. And, as useful as anti-IED capabilities may be, they aren’t a good reason to make decisions regarding hundred-million dollar air superiority fighters.
Now, if they’d just add a camera and a little cargo bay, the Raptor would really and truly be a F/A/R/C/E. It’s not that the F-22 is a farce. Despite the high cost, no one seems to be debating the fact that it’s an awesome machine. But these attempts to sell the thing as a major player in the type of war we’re currently fighting appear to be little more than shallow PR campaigns. I’ve had a little yellow post-it note on my computer monitor for a long time as a reminder of the farce idea, just waiting for the right moment. This seems to be it.
UPDATE: Noah at Defense Tech points out that this is another “part of a broader move to try to jam IEDs from above — a move that has met with only limited success.” It’s been noted on Defense Tech here and here previously.
He also reminds me that a quick check of the Raptor Watch category on Defense Tech will yield additional wacky justifications for the F-22. Like any good multi-billion dollar defense program, there’s no shortage of them.
Finally, I got a look at the source article (paid subscription required) and Lockheed is looking to add this anti-IED capability beginning with the Block 30 model, but declines to give any specifics:
Block 30 Raptors will add air-to-ground radar, better attack capabilities against integrated air defense systems, Link 16 data link and a core Small Diameter Bomb ability through 2009. The EA capability against IEDs, not one of the aircraft’s main missions as originally outlined, comes as the company looks to solidify its advanced fighter’s relevance over the next 40 years, especially while the United States engages in a global war on terrorism.
They also continue to push for a bomber version of the Raptor.
UPDATE 2 : Received this in an email:
How about minesweeper, too?
Heh. I’ll see your “minesweeper” and raise you a “hedgerow cutter”!
UPDATE 3: Also via e-mail: Defense Industry Daily had a great post on F-22 and F-35 electronic warfare back in October.
—Cross-posted to Defense Tech