The New and Improved F-22 Raptor Is Something Really Special

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Photos circulated on social media earlier this month showing a Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor with new stealthy external fuel tanks and underwing Infrared Search and Track (IRST) sensor pods. 

TaskForce23 photographed the aircraft near the Mojave Air And Space Port and shared the image of the modified Raptor on the social media platform. 

“Cropped into oblivion but this is the first time I’ve seen the LO fuel tanks and pods on the F-22,” wrote TaskForce23, who quickly followed up by posting a render of the planned upgraded aircraft that was released two years ago.

The F-22 Raptor Gets A New Look 

According to The Aviationist, the new fuel tanks are officially known as Low Drag Tank and Pylon, or LDTP, and they were initially designed to be stealthier and more aerodynamically efficient than the current 600-gallon fuel tanks. The LDTP was thus meant to facilitate supersonic flight with external tanks, while extending the range of the Raptor. According to reports, the pylons are equipped with smart rack pneumatic technology that allows for controlled ejection performance.

In its Fiscal Year 2023 budget request, the U.S. Air Force noted that the F-22 LDTPs featured advanced technological designs that could provide increased persistence and range while maintaining lethality and survivability, critical attributes for maintaining air superiority.

About the IRST

The IRST system planned for the F-22 was believed to have been nixed due to budget concerns, but the recent photo would suggest it wasn’t completely canceled.

As previously reported, the Air Force has committed to spending more than $9 billion upgrading the remaining fleet of F-22 Raptors through the end of the decade. Upgrades will include the recently seen fuel tanks, as well as new sensors and other improvements to the fighters’ stealth capabilities.

These upgrades and enhancements are meant in part to address concerns about the F-22’s competitiveness against China’s J-20 fifth-generation fighter. 

The War Zone also reported that the F-22 Raptor is serving as a technology incubator for the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance program – a sixth-generation system of systems that will include a manned fighter supported by unmanned aerial systems acting as loyal wingmen. 

The F-22’s service as a testbed for new systems could thus also prolong its service as the Air Force’s air superiority fighter until the NGAD comes online in the 2030s. Despite being developed back when Ronald Reagan was in the White House and Donald Trump was just a struggling businessman, the F-22 continues to be a highly capable aircraft. With the recent upgrades, it will likely be able to stop anything the Air Force’s near-peer adversaries can throw at it. 

Author Experience and Expertise: Peter Suciu 

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu. You can email the author:



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