The U.S. Air Force is testing an improved radar absorbent coating from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program on the newest F-22 Raptor stealth fighters.
"Some of the [low observables] coatings system and gap-fillers that the F-35 had an advantage on, we have incorporated into the Raptor," Jeff Babione, Lockheed Martin’s vice president and general manager of the F-22 program, told Defense News.
The new materials do not alter the F-22's radar cross-section but are more durable than the current coatings and should reduce maintenance, according to Lockheed Martin.
‘More Robust Materials’
"[The F-35 program] had some more robust materials that were more durable and we were able to pull those back on to the F-22," Babione said. "So our system is better, and the life-cycle cost of the F-22 is reduced."
| The F-22 is the Air Force’s newest jet fighter.|
Dan Goure, an analyst at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, VA, told Defense News that retrofitting the F-22 with the F-35's coatings would save significant maintenance time and costs.
"It's not going to transform the airplane, but what it's going to really do is make it much cheaper to operate the F-22 fleet, which is terribly important given its small size," he said.
Despite Lockheed Martin's statement that the F-35-derived coatings would not alter the F-22's radar cross-section, Goure said: "I would be very surprised if this wasn't an improvement in stealth characteristics.”
Lockheed Martin had to make only minor tweaks to the F-35's radar absorbent materials to adapt the technology to the F-22, Defense News reported. Though the radar cross-section requirements for the Raptor and the F-35 are slightly different, the physics and chemistry of the coatings are fundamentally the same, Babione told the newspaper.
Goure said the F-35 coatings likely needed to be modified to deal with the high supersonic cruise-speeds and extreme altitudes at which the F-22 routinely operates. The Raptor can cruise at speeds about Mach 1.8 above 50,000 feet without afterburners.
Currently, the latest Lot 9 production F-22s have only some of the new stealth coatings installed. Other improved stealth materials "are still in final qualification testing and will enter the field next year," Goure told Defense News.
Once testing is complete, plans are in place to retrofit the entire F-22 fleet with the coatings, the paper said.