Even the newest and most perfect aviation technology becomes obsolete, and it is only a matter of time. Thus, the most advanced US Air Force fighter, Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor, entered service in 2005 and by now it no longer fully complies with all current requirements. In the recent past, such aircraft have undergone an upgrade, and in the future they will face new upgrades.
Already at the stage of development of the F-22A project, the need for future repairs and modernizations was taken into account with an extension of the service life and new opportunities. Basic approaches to updating equipment were formed that meet specific requirements.
Glider, propulsion system, general aircraft systems, etc. initially made the most perfect and suitable for operation for a long time without any significant modifications. Moreover, some changes to the airframe are virtually eliminated, as they can hit flight performance or stealth.
The main method of modernization in the near and medium term was made by updating the software of electronic equipment. In the future, the possibility of replacing individual blocks and devices with modern products with higher characteristics was not ruled out.
Some opportunities in the context of modernization were used already at the stage of mass production. The technique of various “blocks” (parties) was slightly different in the composition and software of electronics and, accordingly, in technical and combat capabilities. So, the last production fighters of 2011 were equipped with version 3.1 Increment equipment.
Last May, the US Air Force, Lockheed Martin, and subcontractors began upgrading to upgrade avionics to version Increment 3.2. Block 35 and 40 series aircraft can receive such an update. Representatives of other parties can also receive this update, but only after upgrading to Block 35/40.
Update "3.2" is divided into two main parts, sold separately. The 3.2A project provides for the modernization of devices and software for communication, control, recognition and electronic warfare systems. Increment 3.2B affects navigation equipment and controls weapons.
In the current configuration, the F-22A is equipped with a Link 16 type communication unit that provides only data reception. The Increment 3.2A project provides for its replacement with a modern Multifunctional Information Distribution System-Joint (MIDS-J) transceiver. The fighter will be able to use the existing Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) systems for communication.
Radar AN / APG-77. The station so far meets the requirements of the Air Force, but in the future it may need to be modernized or replaced
Accurate information about the identification devices and modernization of electronic warfare is not yet available. It is possible that in their case they will manage to do only software updates. The introduction of new encryption tools and measures to increase the stability of communications to interference have been announced. These tasks are also being addressed through new software.
As part of the 3.2B upgrade, the focus is on developing weapon control systems. After installing new devices and installing programs, the F-22A will be able to fully use the air-to-air missiles of the latest modifications AIM-9X and AIM-120D. It is curious that other US Air Force fighters, primarily the previous 4 generations, have “mastered” such weapons quite a long time ago and can fully use it.
The upgrade of the aiming and navigation complex with the integration of new missiles was planned to begin in 2013-14, however, real events were repeatedly postponed. Work on installing the "3.2" components only began in May 2019. Aircraft of the suitable series receive an update to Increment 3.2B, as well as software for communications.
Cargo compartment fighter F-22A. On the right is the AMRAAM air-to-air missile. With the "3.2B" update, the aircraft will be able to use the latest AIM-120D missiles
Measures and funds from the 3.2A project will be implemented in the near future. It was previously reported that MIDS-J and other systems will begin to install in 2020. It will take no more than a few years to carry out all the necessary work, and in the early twenties the entire fleet of compatible F-22A will receive the necessary updates.
It is curious that, despite improvements at the production stage and subsequent updates, the F-22A still does not have a part of the desired functions. In particular, the helmet-mounted target designation system, which simplifies combat in some conditions, is still not used. However, current plans provide for its introduction - in the foreseeable future.
In the year 2024 The Air Force plans to launch a new Mid-Life Upgrade (MLU) mid-life upgrade program. This time it is supposed to significantly update avionics and software, as well as partially modify the airframe and general aircraft systems. To solve such problems, inter alia, solutions will be used that have been worked out during the experimental design, production and operation of newer F-35 fighters.
Perhaps the main innovation in the context of the airframe will be the replacement of the radar absorbing coating. Established materials developed for the F-22A proved to be overly complicated to operate and not justified. Such a coating is proposed to be replaced by a more successful one, borrowed from F-35. It is also possible to refine the internal compartments of the airframe, taking into account the installation of new devices.
Blocks LTC - the most noticeable element of the airborne defense complex. BKO must also be modernized
The issue of deep modernization of the airborne radar AN / APG-77 is being considered, which will increase the main combat characteristics. With a high degree of probability, the Air Force will order the installation of an optical-location station according to the EOTS system type for the F-35. The aiming and navigation complex can also receive other devices for viewing and navigation, as well as modern software. The MLU will also introduce the long-awaited helmet-mounted target designation system.
Missile Launch Detector plans to complement the on-board defense system AN / AAR-56 with new infrared sensors for detecting missile launches. It is possible to modernize other means of detecting enemy attacks already installed on the aircraft.
The MLU modernization is supposed to be launched in 2024. It will take several years to carry out the work. During this time, the entire existing fleet of F-22A fighters — less than 200 units — can receive new instruments and programs. Thus, these 5th generation fighter aircraft will still be inferior in the number of vehicles of previous models, but will again ensure themselves a qualitative superiority.
One can already imagine how the F-22A fighters will change before the end of the decade based on the results of the current and planned updates. In general, we are talking about improvements in all areas and the advantages of both combat and operational nature.
The nose of the F-35 fighter. You can consider the skin with a special coating and a transparent fairing OLS EOTS (under the fuselage in front of the chassis niche)
Aircraft with Increment 3.2 and MLU will remain inconspicuous, but maintaining such capabilities and appropriate maintenance will be simplified. The fighter will be able to "see" further and better, both due to the radar, and with the help of other devices. Combat missions will be simplified by improved PRNK with fundamentally new (for F-22A) capabilities.
The oldest of the F-22A combat aircraft is now celebrating its 15th anniversary. The technology of the last parties has not served for 10 years. The US Air Force plans to keep such fighters in service until the sixties of the XXI century - they have to serve at least 40 more years. Over time, promising 22th generation fighters will join the current F-6A, which will then be able to displace them.
Based on such plans, current and future plans for development and modernization are determined. Some projects to upgrade equipment have already been completed, others are being prepared for implementation, and still others are a matter of the distant future.
Even at the development stage, the F-22A fighter began to be called the most advanced in the United States and around the world. Time passes, progress does not stand still, and measures must be taken to maintain such a status - not only advertising, but also technical. The development of the existing aircraft has become an almost continuous series of modernization programs, and this allows the customer in the person of the Air Force to maintain and improve its capabilities.