This picture captures two of Lockheed's best fighter airplanes: The olive drab World War II era P-38 Lightning and the silver grey F-22 Raptor.
The P-38's first flight was on January 27, 1939. It was a very successful U.S. Army Air Force, long range, high altitude interceptor.
P-38 pilots, flying 550 miles from their base, intercepted and destroyed a Mitsubishi transport that carried Japanese Navy Admiral Yamamoto who planned the December 7, 1941 attack against Pearl Harbor. USAAF Capt. Richard I. Bong used P-38s to score 40 confirmed kills against Japanese airplanes, which made Bong the USAAF's top-scoring fighter pilot.
Thousands of P-38s were built between 1937 to 1945. USAAF pilots flew P-38s with great success against the Japanese in the Pacific and against the Germans in Europe. British Royal Air Force pilots also flew P-38s.
Lockheed Martin's F-22 Raptor is the world's only current "Fifth Generation" airplane. It is a true, world class, "kick butt", air superiorty fighter with stealthy features and an internal weapons load of lethal air-to-air medium range and short range missiles. The Raptor is in a class by itself. Nothing can stay in the air against a Raptor pilot intent on destroying it. Repeat: NOTHING.
The F-22's maiden flight was on September 7, 1997, 58 years after the first P-38 flew.
The U.S. Congress passed a law making it illegal to sell the F-22 to--or to license it for manufacture in--even the United States' best allies, such as Britian, Germany, Canada, Japan, or Israel, which has antagnoized key persons in Japan and Israel who have expressed a strong interest in buying Raptors. As a practical matter, however, the United States is probably the only nation, or one of few, wealthy enough to acquire and operate even one F-22 squadron.
It has been reported that F-22 Raptor pilots, over instrumented ranges, during its tactics development stage, during intense mock missions against U.S. and Allied pilots, achieved a kill ratio, at one time, of 75 to 0, in favor of the Raptor, and approximately 250 to 3-4, in favor of the Raptor, with the 3-4 being explained away as "dumb luck".
A retired U.S. fighter pilot friend told me that as the U.S. Air Force acquires more F-22s, it will let much younger, less experienced pilots with proven superior aptitude, fly the F-22, treating it as another cockpit that needs to be filled with first rate talent.
Even though the F-22 is excellent, a majority in the U.S. Congress opposes appropriating more money to build more than about only 180 F-22s. This is because Congress' senior leaders [misleaders?] opine that A) the Raptor's technology is 100% irrelevant for "low tech" wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, B) the former Soviet Union is no longer a threat, and C) they want to buy only military hardware that is "relevant" to "low tech" wars, such as UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles].
A large part of the U.S. Air Force's senior leadership wants to buy approximately 340 F-22s, but Congress seems to be determined to appropriate enough money to buy only 180-184. A substantial part of the U.S. Air Force's senior leadership wants to buy less than 180 F-22s to free up money earmarked for the F-22 so more of the less expensive, less capable, F-35 stealth like, fighter can be bought. Thus, even the U.S. Air Force's senior leadership lacks a 100% consensus regarding what mix of airplanes they should buy.
Even 340 is not many, especially for a nation that fancies itself to be the world's only remaining "Super Power". Despite technology's advances, the world is still a big place, and much of it is not friendly toward the United States.
The probable production run for the F-22 will likely be only about 20% of the production run for the fighter versions of McDonnell-Douglas' F-15 Eagle, which is the airplane the F-22 is earmarked to replace as the United State's "back bone" "air superiority" fighter.
New technological capabilities can compensate for small numbers, but achieving a prudent balance between "few in number superior technology" airplanes versus "many technologically inferior" airplanes is a challenging task that defies consensus building. At a minimum, an overreliance on too few of anything "superior" is dangerous. The German Air Force in World War II, the Luftwaffe, for example, toward the end of the war, had the world's first operational jet fighter, the Me-262. Germany's Me-262 was so superior to the United States' and its allies' best fighters and best bombers, that the discovery of the Me-262's existence alarmed many within the U.S. Army Air Force. However, the U.S. Army Air Force's vastly superior numbers of substantially inferior airplanes overwhelmed the Me-262s.
To the extent that one F-22 is, arguably, as lethal as one or more entire squadrons of F-15s [12-24 airplanes to a squadron], the "ugly" side of that logic is this: the loss of one F-22, by accident or in combat, is, arguably, the functional equivalent of the loss of 12-24 F-15s.
There is another angle, or important consideration, regarding this perrenial question: What is the proper mix between less expensive, less capable fighters and more expensive, more capable fighters? Ponder this: Although the F-22 is indeed awesome, and its lethality against any other airplane [assuming a good pilot] is, arguably beyond meritorious dispute, the F-22 has one significant limitation: Its weapons are limited to one internal gun, two short range missiles and four medium range missiles. Thus, assuming a F-22 pilot can assuredly destroy six enemy airplanes with its six missiles [one missile per plane], and can destroy five enemy planes with its gun's finite capacity ammunition [which is a generous stretch in favor of the F-22 which is probably unrealistic], what happens if a F-22 encounters twelve or more inferior but still lethal airplanes flown by competent, aggressive, pilots? Can a "defanged" F-22 survive in that environment? Thus, it is misleading to consider the F-22 in only a 1 versus 1 scenario. To be realistic, and prudent, one also needs to consider the vital issue of "mix": What is the most prudent "mix" of airplanes to buy? Why?
Are the most senior leaders of the U.S. Congress well qualified to address this issue, namely, what is the most prudent "mix" of airplanes for the U.S. Air Force to buy? Probably not.
The U.S. Air Force's "F-22 community" [highly skilled pilots and ground support technicians] and hardware assets, such as airplanes and weapons, are true national assets, worth many times their weight in gold. Anyone who disagrees with that opinion should ask themselves this question: Do they need to experience an aerial attack before they comprehend how vital a dominant air superiority fighter is, to deter war? To secure, and to keep, "air superiority" once war begins?
Regardless of how much money Congress might throw at the U.S. Air Force once a war starts, realistically, an unlimited amount of money does not translate into the quick standing up of a new F-22 squadron, let alone a well honed one. Lockheed Martin needs time to build the airplanes, and the U.S. Air Force needs time to acquire and train personnel to forge them into an effective fighting force--to put the "force" into U.S. Air Force. Congress' misleaders, however, manifests deception and delusion.
"Deception" is what one tells some one else, to mislead them, e.g., the F-22 is so superior the U.S. Air Force only needs 180 of them.
"Delusion" is what one tells oneself, to rationalize away why one does not do what they should, e.g., as they pursue their folly and their schemes to get themselves re-elected, instead of doing what is necessary to promote the nation's "national interests".
Realistically, the odds are high that 180 F-22s is nowhere near enough for what the U.S. Air Force should have to help maintain the peace, to help deter war, and to help win wars.
I am confident that Russia's Putin, North Korea's leadership, and Communist China's leadership are thrilled that the U.S. Congress has appropriated enough money to build less than 200 F-22 Raptors.
Lockheed Aircraft Company needed two years to build and fly the first P-38 after it got that contract, and the P-38's technology is primitive compared to the F-22's.
If Congress does not appropriate enough money to buy many more F-22s, if it turns out that the U.S. Air Force needs 300 to 900 or more F-22s, Lockheed Martin, with or without help from its main rivals--Boeing and Northrop, would not be able to build enough of them fast enough. F-22s cannot be produced like Model T Fords or sugar cookies. Furthermore, it is unlikely that this nation's enemies would allow American industry to gear up to pruduce what it needs, in time to have a positive effect on the outcome of a war. This is because the oceans and intercontinental distances are no longer the barriers they use to be, as in the 1940s, and it is foolish to under estimate the cunning, the skill, the vision, the will, and the tenacity of our nation's actual or potential enemies or both.
Even though the U.S. Air Force, and the U.S. Armed Forces, as a whole, have budgets in the hundreds of billions, everything is relative. I am inclined to entertain a strong suspicion that the stark truth is this: The current senior U.S. Congressional leadership functions in a way that flirts with gross incompetence, gross civic malpractice, horrific fiscal irresponsibility, criminal negligence, callous indifference, and treason. I include "treason" because many, if not most, members of Congress manifest treason. They usurp power without so much as a hiccup or a nano second's reflection. They routinely lie to us and mislead us. They are constantly campaigning instead of fixing problems. They do not really solve problems; instead, they make most problems worse. Their "solutions" are, at best, only a "trade-off", not a true "solution". And they routinely function above and against, "We the People" and our Supreme Law, the United States Constitution.
Returning to this airplane picture, I stress this: Even though this picture shows two "fighters" with maiden flights separated by 58 years, they share these structural features: 1) a forward bubble canopy, 2) two engines, 3) twin tails, 4) high wings, and 5) the F-22, even in the "missile age", has an internal canon, one that will spit out lead faster than all of the P-38's guns combined.