Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter has cost more money than any weapons system in history, but a bright new idea from the same company could see its best bits gutted and slapped into the world’s deadliest combat jet: The F-22.
The F-22’s development started in the 1980s, when computers took up much more space. That didn’t stop Lockheed’s engineers from building a 62-foot-long, 45-foot-wide twin-engine fighter jet with the radar signature of a marble.
The F-22 even kicked off a new category of fighter. Instead of air superiority, like the F-15, F-22s wear the crown of air dominance, as it can dogfight with the best of them or pick them off from long range before it’s even seen.
The F-35 benefits from stealth in much the same way, but with a smaller frame, smaller weapons loadout, and a single enigne, it mainly works as shorter range missions with a focus on hunting down and destroying enemy air defenses, rather than aerial combat.
The F-35 can do this much better than the F-22 because it’s got newer technology and compact computing and sensors all around it.
So Lockheed has proposed, as Defense One reported, putting the F-35s brains, its sensors and computers, inside an F-22 airframe for an ultimate hybrid that would outclass either jet individually.
Instead of a sixth-generation fighter – a concept that the US has earmarked hundreds of millions for and which strains the imagination of even the most plugged in military planner as the world hasn’t even adjusted to fifth generation fighters – why not combine the best parts of demonstrated concepts?
“That can be done much, much more rapidly than introducing a new design,” David Deptula, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who now leads the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, told Defense One.
But what seems like a giant windfall for the US, having on hand two jets that could be combined into the best the world’s ever seen, could actually upstage the F-35, which has only just now started to make deliveries to US allies.
The US will spend a solid trillion dollars on the F-35 program, and will export it to NATO and Asian allies, but while the jet solves a lot of problems around modern air combat, it’s not a one-size-fits all solution.
In that way, an F-22/F-35 hybrid could preserve the best parts of both jets in a new and powerful package that could put the US miles beyond anything its adversaries can touch, but in doing so, it could kill the F-35 before it even gets a chance to prove itself.