America’s fearsome air dominance fighter, F-22 Raptor, considered the world’s most capable jet because of its stealth features and sensor fusion technology, lost a handful of dogfights to German Eurofighter Typhoons, dealing catastrophic harm to the magnificent Raptor’s reputation.
While the Raptor has lost multiple dogfights over the years versus less advanced jets like the F-16 and the US Navy’s EA-18G Growler electronic-warfare fighter, falling to German Eurofighters roughly a decade ago was notable owing to the traction they acquired.
In 2012, the US Air Force (USAF) conducted its large-scale Red Flag air combat operations over Alaska. Red Flag is a two-week advanced aerial combat training exercise done many times a year by the USAF, which confronts a wide variety of aircraft, frequently from multiple nations, against large-scale and realistic threats to simulate the circumstances of a near-peer conflict.
Eight Eurofighter Typhoons from Jagdgeschwader 74, or the Luftwaffe’s 74th Tactical Air Force Wing, were sent to Eielson AFB in Alaska to participate in the exercise, which included a series of within visible range (WVR) dogfights with the United States Air Force’s F-22 Raptors.
Following the training, the German Eurofighter pilots landed at 2012’s Farnborough International Air Show, where they soon discussed their successes against the Raptors.
While these dogfights were simulated, German pilots took them quite seriously, with one of them noting, “they had a Raptor salad for lunch.”
The F-22 Raptor Vs. Eurofighter Typhoon
The F-22 Raptor and Eurofighter Typhoon were initially conceived as air superiority fighters, with the Typhoon evolving into a multirole vehicle over time. They were developed concurrently, with the Typhoon’s first flight occurring in 1994 and the F-22’s shortly thereafter in 1997.
Both fighters entered service in the early to mid-2000s, with the Typhoon entering service in 2003 and the Raptor following shortly thereafter in 2005.
However, there are significant differences in how these fighters execute their tasks. The F-22 Raptor was intended to be a revolution in air superiority, based on America’s breakthrough in stealth technology combined with a high degree of sensor fusion and modern avionics that provided the pilot with a high level of situational awareness.
Simply put, the F-22’s onboard computers allow the pilot to focus more on the fight and less on flying the aircraft.
F-22 pilot Randy Gordon noted in a talk at MIT, “When you’re flying the Raptor, you’re not thinking about flying the Raptor; you’re thinking about using the Raptor. “Flying is subordinate”
Additionally, the F-22 is equipped with thrust vector controls (TVC) that allow the pilot to redirect the engine’s thrust by tilting the exhaust nozzles side to side as well as up and down in order to perform incredibly aerobatic manoeuvres during WVR combat scenarios in which the fighter may need to manoeuvre around nearby enemies and avoid incoming missiles.
Rich Wells, RAF Typhoon pilot and squadron commander, stated in 2013 that “Raptor has vector thrust but Typhoon does not.” “The capabilities of the aeroplane are astounding. The Typhoon simply cannot do that.”
Therefore, the F-22 may observe its opponent approaching from a distance before the opponent sees it, allowing it to destroy the opposing aircraft without the pilot being aware of who struck him. In addition, the fifth-generation aircraft retains a high degree of manoeuvrability for typical dogfighting circumstances.
According to available sources, the F-22 is powered by two Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 engines producing 35,000 pounds (156 kN) of thrust apiece, resulting in a high thrust-to-weight ratio (TWR) of approximately 1.18.
The Eurofighter Typhoon is powered by two Eurojet EH200 afterburning turbofan engines, each of which provides 20,000 pounds (90kN) of thrust and a TWR of 1.25.
A greater TWR indicates that the aircraft is comparatively light relative to the amount of thrust its engines generate. The Eurofighter’s improved TWR permits quick acceleration.
In addition, the Eurofighter has a lower “wing-loading” (ratio of aircraft weight to wing area) than the F-22, which, in conjunction with its greater TWR, enables the aircraft to execute tighter spins without losing speed.
To outmanoeuvre adversary aircraft, a fighter must be able to accelerate and turn faster; the Eurofighter is superior to the F-22 in both regards.
Moreover, despite being a fighter of the fourth generation, the Typhoon boasts a comparatively higher degree of stealth due to its design and construction components.
“The aircraft is constructed with cutting-edge composite materials to provide a low radar signature and a sturdy airframe. According to Eurofighter advertising materials, only 15 percent of the aircraft’s surface is comprised of metal, providing stealth operation and protection from radar-based systems.
Similar to a number of other aircraft, including the F-22, the Typhoon employs electronic warfare capabilities to conceal its radar return.
The Raptor Was Neutered Immediately!
Returning to the simulated dogfight in the Red Flag Exercise 2012, or what fighter pilots refer to as Basic Fighter Maneuvers (BFMs), certain specifics of the encounters between the F-22s and German Eurofighters during those drills remain obscure.
However, there are certain certainties. One is that some of these engagements occurred in WVR, negating the F-22’s stealth and sensor fusion advantages.
In actuality, the F-22 pilots would identify the Typhoon well before the Typhoon becomes aware of their location, allowing the Raptor to either eliminate the Typhoon from beyond visual range (BVR) or at least position itself favourably.
In addition, the F-22 was equipped with external fuel tanks, which hindered the Raptor’s mobility and stealth. No pilot would engage in a life-or-death duel with external fuel tanks on his aircraft’s wings, and he would jettison them as soon as he is challenged by an enemy aircraft or much before.
As for the German Eurofighters, they were authorised to fly not just without fuel tanks but also without any form of external armaments on them. This gave German fighters significantly greater flexibility, and while it is possible in reality for a Typhoon to be left without any ammunition, this is not often the case. The dogfight was initially tilted in favour of German Eurofighters.
“There were two mornings that we flew against them 1v1. We pulled off all the tanks to achieve the highest alpha [angle of attack]; the Eurofighter is a beast with no tanks,” Germany’s Maj. Marc Gruene, one of the pilots that participated in the drills, revealed.
Gruene also highlighted that the F-22’s thrust-vector control (TVC) hampered its performance instead of helping it when engaged with the Typhoon in close quarters.
“The idea is to get as near as possible to the F-22 and stay there. They did not anticipate our forceful manoeuvre,” Gruene told Combat Aircraft magazine in 2012. “Once the merging is reached, the Typhoon need not necessarily fear the F-22.”
“Merge” refers to a very near, neutral pass made by opposing aircraft when they meet for the first time in an air-to-air engagement, often while travelling in opposite directions.
While the TVC permits a fighter to do extreme manoeuvres, these movements reduce the fighter’s velocity, which is crucial in a combat.
Therefore, when the F-22 use thrust-vectoring nozzles to execute abrupt turns, it becomes vulnerable until it regains airspeed. If the Raptor is unable to score a kill immediately after executing such a manoeuvre, it is easy prey for a predator until its engines are able to propel the aircraft forward.
“If you are ‘defensive’ and your aircraft has Thrust Vectoring, you can outturn your opponent, but that’s probably not a good idea: an energy fighter like the Typhoon will ‘use the vertical’ to retain energy and aggressively reposition for a missile or gunshot,” an unnamed Eurofighter test pilot told David Cenciotti of The Aviationist.
“Also, the subsequent acceleration will be incredibly time (and fuel) consuming, allowing your adversary to pursue you indefinitely using all of its short-range weaponry,” the test pilot added.
Even if the pilot is on the offensive and uses TVC to quickly tip his fighter’s nose toward the enemy aircraft and scores a kill, he will become susceptible to any other close hostile aircraft. This is the reason why no other American aircraft has TVCs.