A senior U.S. Air Force commander has opened the door to joint coalition operations with the stealthy F-22 Raptor fighter. Speaking at the International Fighter Conference organized in London by IQPC, Maj. Gen. Larry Wells, commander of the Ninth Air Force, said “We need our partners to get involved with the F-22 in exercises.”
Until now, the security classification surrounding America’s top-of-the-line interceptor has precluded meaningful cooperation with allied air forces. But Wells noted that the U.S. fleet of stealth airplanes is not large enough to conduct major strike operations alone. “We must integrate with other fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft,” he said. Wells said that exercises with U.S. Air Force F-15s and F-16s have already been stepped up. At present, F-22 pilots can communicate with other aircraft only by voice, but a Link 16 receive capability will be added next year, Wells revealed. He said that F-22s “pass a lot of high-fidelity data [among] themselves” via their unique datalink, but cannot yet communicate even with other U.S. stealth aircraft such as the B-2 or the F-35. Addition of the F-35’s multifunction advanced datalink (MADL) will eventually provide that capability, Wells added.
Wells also revealed that one squadron of F-22s has now been equipped to drop the 250-pound small diameter bomb. This boosts the aircraft’s air-to-ground capability, which already includes the ability to drop 1,000-pound joint direct attack munitions subsonically.
The majority of the operating restrictions imposed after the well publicized pilot oxygen supply problems have now been lifted, Wells reported. “We’ve recently done two major deployments to East Asia and Southwest Asia without incident,” he said. Solutions to the elusive problems include charcoal filters in the oxygen supply; a back-up oxygen supply; and modifications to the pilot’s “Combat Edge” pressure jerkin.