The Future of America’s F-22 Raptors: Retirement and Beyond

Christian Baghai
2 min readFeb 26, 2024

As the United States Air Force (USAF) looks towards the horizon of aerial combat, the question of what to do with its fleet of F-22 Raptors, particularly the Block 20 models, has become a subject of intense debate. The F-22 Raptor, a symbol of American air superiority, faces a crossroads as the USAF plans for its next-generation successors.

The Block 20 Raptors: A Legacy to Preserve or a Cost to Cut? The Block 20 F-22 Raptors have been earmarked for retirement by the USAF. These jets, while part of the fifth-generation fighter lineage, are not combat-worthy without significant upgrades. They lack the modern communications, weaponry, and electronic warfare capabilities necessary for today’s battlefields.

Congressional Resistance and the Debate Over Utility Despite the USAF’s stance, Congress has pushed back against the retirement plans. Some members argue that the Block 20 Raptors still hold value and should be maintained and upgraded to the latest configurations. This opposition is rooted in the belief that these aircraft could still serve a strategic purpose, even as the USAF shifts focus to future technologies.

The Financial Equation: Savings vs. Upgrade Costs Retiring the Block 20 jets would save the USAF an estimated $485 million annually, contributing to the funding of the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program. This program aims to develop a secretive sixth-generation fighter jet to ensure the USAF’s competitive edge in the coming decades. Conversely, upgrading the Block 20 Raptors to combat-ready status would require around $3.5 billion and a decade to initiate, presenting a significant financial and time investment.

Strategic Implications and the Path Forward The debate over the F-22 Raptors’ future is more than a fiscal discussion; it’s about strategic foresight. The USAF’s focus on NGAD reflects a commitment to maintaining air superiority into the 2030s and beyond. However, the decision to retire or upgrade the Block 20 Raptors will hinge on further deliberations over military budgeting and strategic priorities.

As the sun sets on some of the USAF’s most iconic fighters, the path they will take remains uncertain. Will they be preserved as a testament to American ingenuity, or will they make way for the next generation of aerial warriors? The answer lies in the balance of fiscal responsibility, strategic value, and the relentless march of technological progress. The F-22 Raptors may fly off into the sunset, but their legacy will undoubtedly shape the future of air combat for years to come.

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