While earlier the Pentagon had shelved the idea of modernization the F-22 stealth fighter in order to save money, it appears that the Pentagon has decided to revisit the idea following the emergence of new threats.
According to a report from the War Zone, the U.S. Air Force has started implementing plans to integrate an infrared search and track sensor [IRST] into its low-visibility fighter F-22 Raptor.
The sensor was designed to be installed onto the plane to improve its ability to detect and track other aircraft over long distances, it was eventually abandoned to save costs.
The F-22’s program office is currently looking for new hardware and software solutions that provide infrared and long-range detection capabilities; if the contractor can develop a product that meets its requirements, it will be integrated into the F-22 Raptor.
Integrating an IRST sensor in the F-22 at this stage could be potentially problematic since an outer capsule is likely to impact the F-22’s inconspicuous qualities.
If the sensor is installed inside the aircraft, it will affect the overall radar performance of the aircraft; further it also begs the question as to whether the F-22 ha enough room to install the IRST sensor and even if it does, would it have sufficient cooling systems for it?
A potential solution could be to integrate the IRST into one of the existing sensors including the AN/AAR-56 or MLD missile detection system. This system provides the F-22 fighter with the ability to detect 360 degrees of both air and ground-guided missiles.
Currently, the US military in the process of conducting various tests on a potential IRST system. The Pentagon expects infrared and laser systems to be used widely in the battlefield, with dozens of unmanned aerial vehicles in the US military set to receive such developments with many systems undergoing tests under different conditions.
On November 6, 2021 the U.S. Air Force awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin to upgrade its F-22 Raptor fleet under the Advanced Raptor Enhancement and Sustainment program (ARES) which includes up to 10 years of maintenance and modernization. The contract will cover services including upgrades and technical support for the F-22.
If all the terms of the contract are met, the Pentagon expects the work to be completed by October 31, 2031, that is, by the time the F-22 can theoretically retire.
Incidentally, the Pentagon expects to put into operations combat aircraft such as the F-35, F-15EX, F-16, and the sixth-generation NGAD fighter.