The two premier fifth-generation fighter jets on the planet squared off over Norway on Wednesday in a mock dogfight that saw U.S. pilots manning the nimble F-22 Raptor and Norwegian pilots behind the stick of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. While the F-35 is widely touted as the most advanced aircraft on the planet, the slower and less maneuverable fighter likely had its hands full in a sparring match with the decidedly faster and more agile F-22, though no one from either side has been willing to comment on the victor.
The F-22 Raptor was the world’s first fifth-generation fighter, built from the ground up by Lockheed Martin to serve not only as a multi-role fighter with an emphasis on air superiority but with stealth attributes incorporated into its very design. However, after only around 180 of the fighters were produced, the program was discontinued in favor of diverting funds toward ongoing combat operations in theaters that had little need for air superiority fighters. America’s next fifth-generation fighter, the F-35, was also developed by Lockheed Martin and has earned a number of superlatives within the media and defense community thus far — ranging from “most capable” to “most expensive” airframe ever developed.
Unlike the F-22, which couples stealth with extreme maneuverability to offer an advantage in air to air combat, the F-35 relies on powerful sensors to help it identify and target enemy aircraft well before they’re even aware of the stealthy jet’s presence. The F-35 can then fire over-the-horizon missiles at enemy planes, effectively ending the engagement before the opponent even knows they were there. Effective as this strategy may prove to be for the stealthy F-35, many have nonetheless questioned how well it would fair against a powerful fourth-generation opponent like Russia’s Su-35 if they ever found themselves within visual range.
While offering little in the way of stealth, the Sukhoi Su-35 is capable of maintaining speeds nearly 500 miles per hour faster than those attained by the F-35, it’s also far more agile than the more advanced stealth fighter. Many American experts contend that an F-35 likely wouldn’t bother engaging a Su-35 in a dogfight, and would most likely “bug out” or leave the area in to ensure it maintains its advantage, but questions remain about what might happen if the F-35 ever found itself unable to escape a fight against a quicker opponent.
The F-22 Raptor, while not quite as fast as the Su-35 in top speed, is widely believed to be just about as maneuverable while benefiting from a significantly reduced radar signature thanks to its stealth attributes. Although the F-22 is the oldest fifth-generation fighter on the planet, it remains potentially the most capable (in terms of air to air combat) when compared to America’s F-35, Russia’s Su-57, and even China’s F-22 knockoff, the J-20. The F-22, while no longer in production, is seen by many within the U.S. as the superior aircraft to the troubled F-35 program, which has seen repeated setbacks and cost overruns in recent years.
The mock dogfight between American F-22s and Norwegian F-35s that took place on Wednesday has, thus far, been kept fairly quiet — with little more than a confirmation that it occurred being released by national level governments. The F-22s that participated belonged to a total of 13 that are currently serving in short-term deployments throughout Europe, with a future training mission planned to be conducted in an undisclosed location in the coming days. The F-35s are among those already delivered to European partners in the program. The mock dogfight took place during a single-day training revolution.
“Every training opportunity that we have bettered our readiness for any potential adversary of the future,” Colonel Leslie Hauck, chief of the fifth generation integration division at the U.S. Air Force’s headquarters in Europe, told the media on Wednesday.
Norwegian Air Force Major Morten Hanche was reportedly among the F-35 pilots that took part in the exercise, and he too cited the F-35s traditional strategy of using long-range sensors to surprise and overpower decidedly un-stealthy fourth-generation fighters, calling the mock engagement “great practice” because it forced them out of that role. Like other officials involved in the training, however, Hanche declined to offer any details into how the sparring match turned out, opting instead to simply state that “The F-22 is a very formidable opponent.”