The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor is an advanced stealth tactical fighter jet, exclusively used by the US Air Force. Images posted on social media show the advanced fighter jet featuring an ‘uncanny’ skin coating as it was flying from the Nellis Air Force Base.
Developed at the Aeronautical Systems Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, the F-22 Raptor is a single-seat, twin-engine, all-weather stealth tactical fighter, which entered service with the US Air Force in December 2005.
The Raptor was designed as an air superiority jet, but is also capable of conducting ground attack, electronic warfare and signals intelligence missions. The aircraft was set to replace the Air Force’s F-15 fighter jets with more emphasis on stealth, agility, and range.
The service had officially terminated the production of these fighter jets in April 2009 when Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in an announcement that the Pentagon would end the Lockheed-run F-22 Raptor program and would increase the production of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
The US Air Force received the last F-22 in 2012. Currently, the service has 183 F-22 Raptors in its inventory, according to Air Force Technology.
In December 2019, Lockheed Martin received a five-year contract worth $7 billion for maintaining the Air Force’s current fleet of F-22 Raptors. Apart from this, the company received a whopping $10.8 billion contract for Advanced Raptor Enhancement and Sustainment for the F-22 Program Office, The EurAsian Times previously reported.
“Lockheed Martin Corporation [of] Fort Worth, Texas has been awarded a $10.863 billion …contract for Advanced Raptor Enhancement and Sustainment (ARES) for the F-22 Program Office”, the US Department of Defense said in a statement on November 5.
“Lockheed Martin is focused on the F-22’s connectivity with other platforms in support of the Air Force’s Joint All-Domain Operations strategy. When it comes to open systems architecture and digital engineering, there is no better example than the F-22 Raptor,” as claimed by Lockheed Martin.
The F-22 Raptor is a crucial component of the Global Strike Task Force and is designed to project air dominance, rapidly and at great distances and to counter threats to deny access to the country’s Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps.
The F-22 Raptor is 18.9 m long, with a height of 5.1 m, wingspan of 13.6 m and has a range of more than 1600 nm. The aircraft is armed with a variant of the M61A2 Vulcan cannon internally above the right air intake.
It has four hardpoints on its wings, each capable of carrying 2,270kg. This allows it to carry AIM-120A AMRAAM or external fuel tanks. The Raptor has three internal weapon bays. The main bay can carry six AMRAAM AIM-120C missiles or two AMRAAM and two 1,000lb GBU-32 joint direct attack munitions (JDAM), according to Air Force Technology.
An F-22 Raptor was spotted taking off from the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada on the morning of November 19. What intrigued the viewers was the drastically different look that this stealth fighter had.
Aviation photographer Santos Caceres shared some images of the aircraft on Instagram. The aircraft can be seen covered in a reflective coating, similar to that on tiles.
The photographs clicked by Caceres show that this shiny coating is in no way interfering with the aircraft’s various key access points, sensors, antennas or other important systems, The War Zone noted.
One can speculate that the Raptor has been covered with such a reflective coating on top of its normal skin for some testing purposes. Even though such a coating has not been observed on an F-22 Raptor before, this is not the first aircraft to wear such a look.
In June 2020, The War Zone had reported that one of Scaled Composites Model 401 ‘Son Of Ares’ demonstrators had conducted a series of test flights at Naval Air Weapons Center China Lake and they were covered in a highly-reflective metallic coating.
The coating was quite similar to the one seen on the F-22 Raptors at present. At that time, it was speculated that this was done for testing the capabilities of advanced infrared sensors and a low-power laser system for detecting a target with a mirror-like appearance.
In recent times, there has been an increased amount of testing being done on infrared search and track systems (IRSTs) which are currently in process of being fielded by the Air Force and the Navy.
Owing to its commendable performance such as its ability to fly up to a height of 60,000 feet with regularity, the F-22 Raptor is a great testing platform for these systems.
At an altitude as high as this, the cold and thin air, the dark and cold background, as well as the angle at which most of such sensors view their target, make for a great trial ground for such types of sensor systems.
It is also interesting to note that an aircraft such as the F-22 Raptor, which was designed in a way to not directly reflect electromagnetic energy from radars, is being used for testing a skin coating, that does the exact opposite.