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FB-22 Stealth Bomber: Why the US Air Force Said No

You know it as a fighter, but some of the Air Force brass had plans to make it a bomber at one point. The F-22 Raptor had a planned twin called the FB-22 that would have been bigger and maybe just as stealthy, although not as agile. The Secretary of the Air Force was in favor of the bomber variant in the early to mid-2000s.

The program ultimately got axed, but the development of the FB-22 may have resulted in the starting point for the B-21 Raider stealth bomber.

Not a Bad Idea

Then-Secretary of the Air Force James Roche and others had an idea in 2003. What if they took a stealth platform that was extremely fast and maneuverable, and used it as a medium-range bomber? This would fill a hole in the arsenal. The FB-22 could have flown in close to enemy targets by sneaking past air defenses and dropping precision munitions such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) bomb. Roche was so excited that he wanted the Air Force to order 150 FB-22s.

The F-22 Was Tested as a Standoff Bomber

The potential use of a JDAM by the F-22 was actually tested in 2006. The F-22 pushed its capability to successfully test-drop a JDAM at a target. The Raptor was flying at 50,000 feet and at MACH 1.5. The bomb was dropped at 1,000 feet – 24 nautical miles from its target. This showed the F-22 could attack at a stand-off range.

It Was Going to Take A Lot of Work

Now, this was something to think about. Making the F-22 into a full-time bomber was going to take some changes to the platform. This meant an extra payload with a longer fuselage and probably a co-pilot/ weapons officer, maybe even a delta-shaped wing. The added cockpit could have changed the stealth characteristics.

The larger payload and more bombs attached could also have also rendered stealthiness less effective due to changes in the radar-absorbent materials. The current F-22 can only hold two 1,000 JDAMs inside the airplane. External bombs on the wing hard points would have affected radar evasion. So that became a troubling pattern. The more changes made would result in less stealth. Plus, the F-22 would have required extra fuel capacity. Refueling was also a concern. Flying deep into enemy territory would need at least one re-fueling and that would require a tanker to have greater range.

FB-22: A Stealth Regional Bomber: The Questions Mount 

If the FB-22 could have been nuclear-capable and intercontinental, the changes would have made sense. But the FB-22 was going to be a regional bomber. If it were based in Guam, could it have reached Taiwan? If it were based in Germany could it have reached Russian targets? If it were based in Qatar could it have made it to Iran?

The FB-22 concept eventually failed and the brass opted for starting a new bomber program that became the B-21. But you have to give the Air Force credit for trying. The thinking was: use an existing platform with some mature and innovative technology instead of designing something brand new. 

F-22 Photo Essay

A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor conducts a heritage flight during the 2022 Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Air Show at MCAS Miramar, San Diego, California, Sept. 24, 2022. The F-22 Raptor is the Air Force’s fifth-generation fighter aircraft. Its combination of stealth, super-cruise, maneuverability, and integrated avionics, coupled with improved supportability, represents an exponential leap in war-fighting capabilities. The theme for the 2022 MCAS Miramar Air Show, “Marines Fight, Evolve and Win,” reflects the Marine Corps’ ongoing modernization efforts to prepare for future conflicts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Adam Bowles)

F-22

A P-51D Mustang and F-22 Raptor participate in a traditional “Heritage Flight” during the 2022 Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Air Show at MCAS Miramar, San Diego, California, Sept. 24, 2022. The theme for the 2022 MCAS Miramar Air Show, “Marines Fight, Evolve and Win,” reflects the Marine Corps’ ongoing modernization efforts to prepare for future conflicts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Adam Bowles)

F-22

Maj. Joshua “Cabo” Gunderson, F-22 Demo Team pilot and commander, preforms a F-22 Raptor demonstration at the Space Coast Int. Air Show, May 22, 2022, with this video taken from inside the cockpit of an F-22.

F-22 Raptor

F-22 Raptor. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

F-22 Raptor

A US Air Force (USAF) F/A-22 Raptor, flown by USAF Major (MAJ) David Thole, 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron (TES), Nellis Air Force Base (AFB), Nevada (NV), heads out to the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) for an operational test mission.

1945’s new Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.

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