I remember when the USAF launched the ATF (Advanced Tactical Fighter) program which eventually led to the fly-off between Northrop’s YF-23 and Lockheed’s YF-22. I always kind of liked the YF-22 better, but the YF-23 did look pretty cool. It’s been a long road through development, test, and production, and it certainly had some teething issues, but now it is coming to an end. F-22 Raptor production ended with line number 4195.
The USAF originally planned to purchase 650+ Raptors, but that was cut to 381, and eventually 187 – the final number built. The line could’ve remained open longer, potentially much longer, with export orders. Australia expressed interest in buying the F-22, and Japan really wanted them quite badly. But the US Congress banned export sales of the F-22, even to our closest allies, and that sealed its fate.
I’m not sure that was the best move, as the F-35 is experiencing numerous problems and delays, and could yet be cut or even cancelled. Russia is developing the PAK-FA/T-50 and China the J-20, both of which are fifth generation stealth designs. And both are likely to be exported. India is already on-board with a commitment to acquire the production Sukhoi T-50 and Pakistan is generally expected to acquire the Chengdu J-20. The F-22 is easily the best air superiority, or air dominance as the Air Force likes to call it, fighter flying today but 187 isn’t very many when you factor in maintenance, attrition, global coverage, etc.
Even if the F-35′s kinks are all worked out and it is produced in volume, it just isn’t the same beast. It doesn’t have the same performance and capabilities, it is primarily intended for strike, not air combat. The F-15s, F-16s, and F/A-18s will remain the backbone of our forces for the foreseeable future. It is kind of ironic that the F-15 is still in production, and the design is still being upgraded, while the F-22′s production has ended. The F-22 was the plane to ‘replace’ the F-15. And now Boeing is looking at the F-15SE Silent Eagle as a semi-stealthy update to the F-15, primarily for a possible South Korean sale. And the most capable F-16 model, the F-16E/F Block 60 ‘Super Viper’, is only used by the United Arab Emirates, not the USAF.
Lockheed Martin made a video commemorating the last Raptor and looking at some of the people who built it: