The single-seat, twin-engine F-22 Raptor is considered one of the best tactical fighters in the world. However, a lesser-known fact about this jet is that the US was in the process of making a naval variant of the same.
The Raptor was developed at the Aeronautical Systems Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. It entered US Air Force (USAF) service in December 2005.
The F-22 was supposed to be an air superiority jet, but its design also allowed it to conduct ground attacks, electronic warfare and signals intelligence missions. The aircraft was slated to replace the USAF’s F-15 warplanes while laying a greater emphasis on stealth, agility, and range.
The Raptor, powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 engines with augmented turbofans, was capable of reaching and sustaining speeds as high as Mach 2.25. It also had the ability to “super-cruise” — maintaining supersonic speeds without using the afterburners.
The F-22 is best known for its super-maneuverability, owing to its “high thrust-to-weight ratio, fly-by-wire flight control system, and its 2D thrust vectoring ability.
However, the service officially terminated the production of these aircraft in April 2009 due to cost overruns. Former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates had announced that the Pentagon would end the Lockheed-run F-22 Raptor program, and would instead focus on increasing the production of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
The Air Force received the last F-22 in 2012. As of May 2020, USAF had 185 of the total 195 Raptors delivered to them.
Why A Naval Variant Was Planned
The F-22 proved to be so capable that Congress pressed the US Navy to consider adopting a sweep-wing version of this new warplane — as a potentially cheaper alternative to developing their own replacement carrier-based fighter — under the NATF (Naval Advanced Tactical Fighter) program which began in 1988.