The US military gave North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a rare runway show of its fighter jet of the future this week when four F-35 Joint Strike Fighters equipped with a full payload of live bombs and missiles conducted a training flight over the Korean peninsula.
Along with its fifth-generation counterpart — the F-22 Raptor — the F-35 is widely considered the most advanced fighter jet in the skies but the US military is planning to upgrade both aircraft with even more firepower and combat capability amid a growing demand for US air power around the world.
The F-22 and F-35 have long been touted as the future of US aerial dominance — the expectation being that the Raptors’s air-to-air combat capabilities will work in concert with the multi-role F-35’s advanced long-range sensors to maintain an advantage over emerging competition from foreign rivals like China and Russia.
Both aircraft have flown training missions over the Korean peninsula in recent months despite ongoing efforts to expand their combat capabilities.
Cloaked with the world’s most advanced stealth coating, the F-22 and F-35 would likely be called upon to lead a potential air campaign against North Korea should the situation escalate to the point of using military force.
While the F-22 Raptor has been involved in combat missions since 2014, the Air Force is planning to equip the fifth-generation aircraft with new missiles, upgraded sensors and perform key maintenance on its special stealth coating.
Scout Warrior was first to report the planned F-22 upgrades.
The Air Force is also in the early stages of improving the F-22’s software and on-board sensors so that it will be able to seamlessly connect and share information with F-35 aircraft. But while the F-22 is set for a face-lift to maintain its competitive edge, the Pentagon could decide against upgrading the F-35s that have already been delivered once the program’s latest weapons and software capabilities are fully developed in early 2018.