Monday, April 18, 2011

Newest F-22 upgrade set for later this year

The F-22 Raptor is a work in progress.

The Air Force is pushing hard to upgrade the planes to Increment 3.1, a hardware and software upgrade scheduled to be operational later this year.

Increment 3.1 will:

• Add synthetic aperture radar.

• Add the ability to drop Small Diameter Bombs.

• Add electronic attack capabilities.

The operational test force has been putting Increment 3.1 through its paces at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., since November.

But even once Increment 3.1 is installed, the F-22 still will only be able to designate two targets in total for its eight SDBs. And the upgrade will not resolve the Raptor’s basic inability to connect with other aircraft.

A future upgrade, Increment 3.2, was originally supposed to include the Multifunction Advanced Data-link developed for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, but the Air Force canceled funding for the F-22 data link last year.

Canceling it was a huge mistake, said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, the service’s former intelligence chief.

“It’s doesn’t do a whole lot of good to build the world’s most advanced aircraft, and not then be able to share the data automatically with other aircraft in the constellation,” he said. “That’s penny-wise but pound-foolish.”

The B-2 is also supposed to receive the MADL upgrade, which would have enabled the entire Air Force stealth aircraft fleet to be connected during operations inside hostile airspace.

Other capabilities planned in the Increment 3.2 include:

• The ability to independently retarget eight SDBs at eight separate targets.

• Support the AIM-9X air-to-air missile, which allows pilots to target enemy aircraft off axis to the aircraft’s direction of flight.

• Integrate the new longer-range AIM-120D missile that improves upon the current AIM-120C.

That upgrade is included in the Air Force’s 2012 budget, and would upgrade all 150 F-22s currently coded for combat use.

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