Aviation Week has a pair of articles about the F-22 Raptor. The first describes how the F-22 and its partners benefit from its netcentric operations capabilities, explaining how the plane achieved 144 kills and no losses against older air-to-air fighters.

Perhaps the most important revelation by the 27th Fighter Sqdn. was demonstrating the F-22's ability to use its sensors to identify and target enemy aircraft for conventional fighters by providing information so they could engage the enemy sooner than they could on their own. Because of the advanced situational awareness they afford, F-22s would stick around after using up their weapons to continue providing targets and IDs to the conventional fighters. ...

"When I look down at my scope and put my cursor over a [friendly] F-15 or F/A-18, it tells me who they are locked on to," he says. For example, "I could help them out by saying, 'You're double-targeted and there's a group over here untargeted' . . . to make sure we got everybody." F-15 targets will be latent because of the radar sweep.

However, these messages are less and less verbal. "When you watch [tapes of the Alaska] exercise, it's fairly spooky," says Gen. Ronald Keys, chief of Air Combat Command. "There's hardly a word spoken among Raptor pilots." That silence also previews some of the fighter's possible future capabilities.

"Because of the way the aircraft was designed, we have the capability to do more," Keys says. "We can put unmanned combat aircraft systems in there with Raptor. You've got three fairly low-observable UCAS in the battlespace. An air defense system pops up, and I click on a UCAS icon and drag it over [the emitter's location] and click. The UCAS throttles over and jams it, blows it up or whatever."

As many others have written about at length, battles of the future will be won by superior networks, not merely superior weapons platforms. Even still, the second article indicates that the Raptor is also a better fighter than previous generations of fighters, such as the F-15.

However, the question periodically resurfaces about whether the F-22 could hold its own during a within-visual-range fight with a very maneuverable fourth-generation fighter such as the Sukhoi Su-27 and Su-30, Eurofighter or Dassault Rafale. The answer will never be obvious to an outsider. The Raptor's high-angle-of-attack capabilities are part of the formula of classified tactics that are closely held. But, roughly, its unique maneuvering and nose-pointing options--plus the high off-boresight capabilities of the AIM-9X missile, which is to be added about 2010--give the aircraft previously unheard-of means of quickly shooting down a foe.

Nonetheless, chasing an F-22 in a two-seat F-15D--which carried reporter Michael J. Fabey--provided perspective about their comparative capabilities. A recent flight started with F-15 pilot Capt. Andy (Bishop) Jacob flying alongside an F-22 piloted by Maj. Shawn (Rage) Anger in the air-to-air ranges above Tyndall AFB, Fla.

Opponents of further Raptor procurements argue that going by such basic flight physics as thrust-to-weight ratios, rearward cockpit visibility and simple aircraft size, the F-22 ranks below the F-15 and other earlier fighters.

Aerial engagements like the encounter between Anger and Jacob are supposed to help prove the Raptor's case. Still, one argument offered by F-22 opponents is that the jet's reported victories over F-15s are often scripted and unreliable gauges of Raptor superiority. ...

Anger and Jacob had planned to engage in mock combat. However, a flashing indicator light warned that something could be wrong with the F-22. But the flight was enough to make a believer of Jacob. "Maybe, with some tricks or tactics, I can beat it," he said. "But that would be a one-time set of circumstances. As for a Raptor-beating tactic--there's no such thing."

With a price tag between $100 million and $200 million per aircraft, they'd better be good. Hopefully the Raptor is intimidating enough that none of our enemies will try to find out.

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