The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, the world’s first ever fifth-generation fighter, is still widely considered to be not only a superior dogfighter to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter but likely, the most capable air superiority fighter on the planet. Its unique combination of stealth characteristics, speed, and maneuverability set it apart from acrobatic fourth-generation fighters and stealthy fifth-generation platforms alike, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.

While the F-35 may not be able to a match its older sibling in speed or maneuverability, Lockheed developers believe it retains its place as the world’s most capable aircraft thanks to its improved stealth and its targeting system’s massive field of view. Further, the F-35 was purpose-built to serve as a data hub, absorbing targeting information from any number of assets and using it to develop what may be the most robust level of battlefield awareness any fighter pilot has ever had.

The F-35’s purpose isn’t limited to air-interception but also includes a wide variety of roles. If it founds itself facing off against particularly squirrelly fighters like Russia’s Su-35 or China’s J-20 (based on stolen F-22 designs), it would likely engage the enemy aircraft before they ever knew it was nearby–and if it couldn’t, it would bug out to avoid a head to head conflict.

Both Russia and China employ the Su-35, which lacks stealth but is considered among the most agile fighters on the planet. (WikiMedia Commons)

Now, however, the U.S. Air Force is looking to bridge that operational gap between the F-22’s nimble quickness and the F-35’s super-computing stealthiness. A new slew of offensive weapons and system upgrades now promise to offer the F-22 a broader targeting envelope and greater battlefield awareness, all while retaining the advantage in speed and mobility. Two new weapons purpose built for long range engagements (the AIM-9X air-to-air missile and the AIM 120-D), a new two-way data link apparatus that will allow for “collaborative targeting,” and sensor upgrades now promise to bridge some of the gaps between the F-35’s brains and the F-22’s brawn, and potentially propel the Raptor even further ahead of its competition than it already was.