The US Air Force (USAF) has started deployment of the first increment of its 3.1 upgraded Lockheed Martin-built F-22A Raptor fighter jets to its operational fleet at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska, US.
525th Fighter Squadron commander lieutenant colonel Paul Moga said that the capabilities the incremental upgrade brings allow the F-22 to find, fix, track, target and engage targets in challenging anti-access environments.
"The capabilities this incremental upgrade brings are a complete game-changer for the F-22, making it even more lethal and survivable in combat," Moga added.
"Stealth and speed, combined with an advanced electronic attack capability, allow pilots to operate with impunity while achieving their mission objectives."
Upgrades on the supersonic, advanced tactical dual fighter jet include synthetic aperture radar (SAR) capability, electronic attack, better geo-location capabilities to find enemy radars and can carry eight 113kg (250lb) GBU-39 small diameter bombs (SDB).
The company claims that the Increment 3.1 upgrade enables the pilot to hit four different targets at a time with its eight weapons by designating two weapons each to two ground targets.
The USAF will soon implement a future Increment 3.2 upgrade divided into smaller packages known as A, B and C with plans to field the first upgraded aircraft in 2014, the second retrofit to begin in 2017 while the third is yet to be completely defined.
Powered by a F119-100 Pratt & Whitney engine, the radar-evading F-22 Raptors were barred from flying above 25,000ft in January 2011 following the crash of a jet in Alaska during a training flight as well as reports about pilots facing oxygen-related problems while flying the aircraft.
The fleet resumed flight operations in late September 2011 following a four-and-a-half month grounding after mitigating the risk factors associated with the aircraft's oxygen system.
The USAF currently operates about 175 Raptors and is scheduled to receive new F-22s from Lockheed.
Image: The F-22A Raptor is a supersonic, advanced tactical fighter jet designed for stealth and greater cruise speed and agility. Photo: Rob Shenk.