(Washington, D.C.) The U.S. Air Force is strengthening its “Rapid Raptor” program designed to fast-track four F-22s to war - anywhere in the world - within 24 hours, on a moments notice, should there be an immediate need for attacks in today’s pressured, fast-moving global threat environment.
The program, in existence for several years, prepares four F-22s with the requisite crew members, C-17 support, fuel, maintenance and weapons necessary to execute a fast-attack “first-strike” ability in remote or austere parts of the world, Air Force officials say.
Readiness for the F-22, senior Air Force officials explain, hinges upon a new software delivery strategy which sees incremental improvements less as “products” for pre-planned, spread apart adjustments -- but rather a steady continuous “pipeline” of upgrades.
“When it comes to software, none of the old rules apply. It is a service and a pipeline today. We have to develop software differently. With the F-22, there has been a shift from a traditional acquisition program into a continuous stream of delivery,” William Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, Acquisition, Technology & Logistics, told an audience recently at an Air Force Association Symposium.
As part of this “agile acquisition” program focused on software, the Air Force has validated two new weapons for the F-22. This F-22 progress is grounded upon the premise that hardware configurations, air frames, weapons’ racks and sensors - can all be changed with upgrades with software, .
The two new weapons are advanced variants of existing weapons - the AIM-9X air-to-air missile and the AIM 120-D.
This faster-paced software-driven strategy is intended to reinforce programs like the “Rapid Raptor” program to ensure that deployed F-22s operate at an optimal level of lethality.
F-22 as “First Strike” Weapon
First strike options are, according to military planners, of particular significance for the F-22 Raptor, given its technical focus on using stealth and air-to-air combat technology to attack heavily defended or “contested” enemy areas.
“If jets, no matter how technically advanced, tactically skilled and strategically sound in the air, can only leap from well-known base to well-known base, their first-strike threat is limited,” an Air Force statement from last year said.
Most air attack contingencies, it seems almost self-evident, are likely to include F-22s as among the first to strike; the aircraft is designed to engage and destroy enemy air threats and also use stealth to destroy enemy air defenses – creating an “air corridor” for other fighters. Although not intended to function as a higher altitude stealth bomber, an F-22 is well suited to a mission objective aimed at destroying enemy aircraft, including fighters, as well as air defenses.
The Raptor is, by design, engineered to fly in tandem with fourth-generation fighters such as an F-15 or F-18, to not only pave the way for further attacks but also to use its longer-range sensors to hand off targets to 4th gen planes for follow-on attacks.
Rapid Raptor was originally developed by Air Force Pacific Command and has since been expanded to a global sphere by Air Combat Command, service officials said.
“The ACC Rapid Raptor program’s aim is to take the concept, as developed in PACAF, and change it from a theater specific to a worldwide capability.” an Air Combat Command spokeswoman told Warrior Maven in a written statement last year.
As part of the Rapid Raptor concept, ACC F-22s forward deployed to Europe in 2015 and 2016. Using the Rapid Raptor program for Europe is, in many respects, entirely consistent with the Pentagon’s broader European posture; for many years now, DoD and NATO have been positioning deterrence-oriented forces throughout the European continent as well conducting numerous allied “solidarity” or “interoperability” exercises.
Mobility and Rapid Deployability
Apart from demonstrating force as a counterbalance to Russian posturing, these activities are also part of a decided strategic effort to demonstrate “mobility” and rapid deployability.
Therefore, so while Air Force officials are careful to say the Rapid Raptor, as a concept does, not “target” any specific nation, its utilization in Europe is indeed of great relevance given existing tensions with Russia.
Also, apart from being prepared to conduct major-power, nation state warfare across the globe within 24-hours, the Rapid Raptor program is designed to enable ground attack options in unexpected, remote or “austere” target areas.
Accordingly, should the need to attack emerge suddenly in a particular part of the world, a small continent of F-22s will be able to get there. The point here, it seems clear, is that recent global combat circumstances have further reinforced the importance of the F-22s ground attack or close-air-support ability.
Of course, historically, many most immediately think of the F-22 in terms of its speed, maneuverability and dogfighting advantage as an air supremacy fighter, yet its recent air to ground attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan have fortified its role in an air-to-ground fight.
While the F-22 is by no means intended to function as an A-10 would in a close-in ground fight persay, it does have a 20mm cannon which has been used in ground attacks against ISIS, officials familiar with the war effort say.
In recent years, the F-22 conducted a successful ground attack against a Taliban facility in Afghanistan, news reports and officials familiar with the attack said.
To support these kinds of mission options, the F-22 weapons compliment includes ground-specific attack weapons such as Joint Direct Attack Munitions – such as the GBU 32 and GBU 39 -- and the Small Diameter Bomb.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.
-- Some background portions of this story first appeared last year --