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The stealth F-22 Raptor's days are numbered, and the Air Force is officially looking for designs for the fighter jet's next-gen replacement

A USAF F-22 Raptor flying during a solo handling display on February 28, 2023 in Avalon, Australia.
A USAF F-22 Raptor flying during a solo handling display on February 28, 2023 in Avalon, Australia.Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images
  • The Air Force is officially seeking designs for the next-gen fighter to replace the F-22 Raptor.

  • The service said it published a solicitation to industry and will award a contract next year.

  • "We will lose that edge if we don't move forward now," Frank Kendall, Air Force secretary, said.

The US Air Force has officially started looking for someone to design a next-generation fighter to replace the stealth F-22 Raptor as it stares down eventual retirement.

To formally initiate the process, the Air Force said Thursday that it published a "classified solicitation" to the defense industry so it can obtain an engineering and manufacturing development contract for its Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) platform — a US military's sixth-generation project.

The solicitation informs the defense industry of the specifications that the Air Force requires for NGAD, which will eventually succeed the advanced fifth-generation F-22, which Air Force leadership hinted two years ago would not be a part of the future fighter fleet. The service intends to award a contract in 2024.

"The NGAD Platform is a vital element of the Air Dominance family of systems which represents a generational leap in technology over the F-22, which it will replace," Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall said in a statement.

"NGAD will include attributes such as enhanced lethality and the ability to survive, persist, interoperate, and adapt in the air domain, all within highly contested operational environments," he added. "No one does this better than the US Air Force, but we will lose that edge if we don't move forward now."

NGAD is intended to be a family of systems that can boost US air dominance. There are two of these sixth-generation projects currently underway, one for the Air Force and the other for the Navy. Lawmakers have allocated billions of dollars to NGAD since 2015, according to a 2022 Congressional Research Service report, and although the development program is classified, a few details have been released to the public.

An F-22 Raptor from the 411th Flight Test Squadron, 412th Test Wing, takes off from Edwards Air Force Base, California, Aug. 1.
An F-22 Raptor from the 411th Flight Test Squadron, 412th Test Wing, takes off from Edwards Air Force Base, California, Aug. 1.US Air Force photo by Chase Kohler

According to the report, the NGAD is expected to replace the F-22 beginning in 2030. The new project, meanwhile, will likely include a mix of crewed and unmanned aircraft and feature complementary cyber and electronic systems. All this means that the program may not resemble that of a traditional fighter.

"The NGAD Platform is one of many critical combat capabilities that will enable counter-air missions with the ability to strike both airborne and ground-based threats to achieve air superiority and support the Joint Force," the Air Force said in a statement Thursday.

The F-22, the first fifth-generation stealth fighter, was first introduced in 2005 as a solution to counter threats posed by China's Shenyang J-11 and the Soviet-era MiG 29 Fulcrum and Su-27 Flanker. The F-22 is 62 feet long with a 44-foot-long wingspan and can reach supersonic speeds. Though the F-22 didn't have an air-to-air kill until this year, the aircraft has long been considered the top US air superiority fighter.

The US doesn't produce F-22s anymore. The Air Force has pushed for the retirement of some earlier F-22s, but it has received pushback from Congress. Updates and upgrades have continued for others in the fleet.

The fighter is capable of hitting ground targets from high altitudes while flying at cruise speeds, and it can also engage enemy aircraft. Despite operational experience targeting Islamic State assets in Syria, it took the F-22 nearly two decades in service to record a confirmed air-to-air kill — when it downed a Chinese spy balloon and an unidentified, high-altitude object in two separate engagements earlier this year.

Read the original article on Business Insider