US President Donald Trump's national defense strategy prioritizing a focus on "great power competition" with China and Russia is prominently playing out in the sphere of air superiority. As the Diplomat recently noted, "while the US president himself maintains a positive relationship with his Chinese and Russian counterparts, Washington's defense and foreign policy machinery works to punish the two other countries in various ways."
For instance, Russia's fifth-generation multirole Su-57 recently finished its first round of trials and is headed to combat testing, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov told reporters on Friday. The Russian Ministry of Defense plans to order a batch of 12 Su-57 aircraft this year for testing before the plane goes into mass production, the official noted.
And China's advanced J-20 air superiority fighter has just been equipped with weapons for missions in the South China Sea, along with two squadrons of Su-35s, as Beijing seeks to assert its power over it and other areas.
The US' F-35 continues to struggle with unaffordable sustainment costs, poisonous in-flight oxygen systems and sometimes excessive corrosion of part materials on the plane, a problem surfacing the moment it got off Lockheed Martin's production line. Some of the problems keeping the F-35 from reaching its potential, such as its roughly 50 percent availability to fly at a moment's notice, have now stagnated for more than two years.
But the US has no plans of doing away with the F-35 or F-22. Much like the F-15 and the F-16 pairing — where the dual-engine F-15 was more effective in air-to-air combat, while the single-engine F-16 could carry more bombs for striking ground targets — the F-35 will take on the "bomb carrying" burden while the F-22 continues to take on the "air superiority" role.
To do this, the F-22 needs to stay operational about as long as the F-35 will: roughly the next 40 to 50 years. As a result, the service is exploring a choice of improved AESA (active electronically scanned) radars, improved weapons, upgraded software to communicate with F-35s, and AI to perform real-time analytics of the plane's maintenance needs, Warrior Maven reported Friday.
Another possibility to add to the Raptor is the Distributed Aperture System, which mounts cameras all over the plane to provide pilots with an uninterrupted view of what's happening around the aircraft. Some of the software will relay positioning data to nearby aircraft digitally instead of through voice communication, which is potentially "hackable," according to Ken Merchant, vice president of Lockheed Martin's F-22 Programs.
The F-22s will head in for their mid-life upgrades in 2024.