F-35 vs. F-22 Raptor: which is the best fighter jet in the USAF arsenal?

The answer isn't too simple.
  • The F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II are extremely capable fighter jets
  • While the Raptor has unmatched speed, the F-35 is suitable for all kinds of missions
  • So, which is the better fighter?

Published on May 7, 2024 at 1:00PM (UTC+4)

Last updated on May 9, 2024 at 7:22PM (UTC+4)

Edited by Kate Bain
F-22 Raptor f-35 lightning ii fighter jet

Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II and the F-22 Raptor fighter jet are the US Air Force’s (USAF) most capable fighters.

These fighter planes sit at the top of the USAF’s arsenal and are among the world’s most capable pieces of machinery.

Despite being in service for almost two decades, both jets remain the pinnacle of aerial combat.

But which is the better fighter jet?

Sure, these fifth-generation fighter planes each have their own party tricks — but one has to be better, right?

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There’s nothing like the F-22 for aerial combat

The F-22 Raptor is a twin-engine fighter jet that excels at single-aircraft combat, also called dogfighting.

When it comes to dogfighting, no other aircraft comes close to being better than the F-22s.

It’s a deadly aircraft packed with advanced stealth features.

Similarly, in the words of the USAF, the Raptor can detect, reach, and destroy the target even before the other pilot knows the F-22 is there.

Despite being in service for over two decades, the F-22 Raptor still hasn’t seen actual combat, except for shooting a surveillance balloon in 2023.

Still, from what we know, it has impeccable fighting ability.

Why wouldn’t it? The aircraft has an M61 Vulcan 20mm rotary cannon paired with two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles and close to six AIM-120 radar-guided missiles.

If that doesn’t seem enough, it can also carry two 1,000-pound JDAM (joint-direct attack munition) guided bombs for air-to-ground battle.

Seems quite capable now, doesn’t it?

Well, it’s extremely fast, too.

The F-22 Raptor can achieve supersonic cruise speeds of Mach 1.82 and has a top speed of Mach 2.25.

To put that into perspective, that’s 2.25 times the speed of sound.

With that speed, only a handful of other aircraft can outrun, or even catch a Raptor.

Aircraft like these often pull off party tricks that make it seem they are defying the laws of physics.

China’s answer to the F-22 is its Chengdu J-20, which seems to be a direct competition to the aircraft.

But the country’s military keeps schtum about much of their military might, so we only know so much about the aircraft.

However, the F-22s are getting old now, and production already stopped a while back.

Something better may just be around the corner as the USAF is spending $28 billion to develop next-gen fighters and unmanned drones.

F-35 Lightning II is the world’s most capable fighter jet

While the Raptor may be the stealthiest fighter plane with record speeds, the single-engine F-35 Lightning II excels at everything else.

It’s the pinnacle of technology for air-to-ground missions, fully stocked with stealth, communication, tracking, and aerial defense features.

The USAF classifies the Lightning as a multi-role fighter, meaning it can take on several types of missions.

Most of these include nuclear strike missions, anti-ship operations, and air-to-ground strikes.

Because of its size, the F-35 can carry many more weapons than the Raptor.

Its most unique ability is probably its VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) capability, which allows the F-35 to land like a helicopter.

This ability can be useful and instrumental for pilots to land and take-off in unconventional areas or smaller airstrips.

Essentially, the fighter can safely enter areas without being detected by radars.

It’s not the world’s most expensive fighter aircraft without appropriate reason.

While it may not be the best option for a dogfighting mission, it is absolutely incomparable for ground missions.

Weapons in its arsenal include Paveway laser-guided bombs and SPEAR-3 land attack missiles.

There’s more — it also carries JASSM cruise missiles along with an array of anti-ship weaponry.

That’s a lot of destructive force, to say the least.

Lockheed Martin mentions that the ‘fifth-gen F-35 series is more than a fighter, it’s a powerful force multiplier with advanced sensors and communications suites.’

Unlike the Raptor, which the United States didn’t export, the F-35 Lightning II attracted several buyers worldwide.

To name a few, the militaries of the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada, and Australia have already adopted the exceptional aircraft.

Which is the better fighter jet?

While both fighters shine at what they do, they have different skill sets.

There’s nothing better than the F-22s for aerial head-to-head combat and nothing better than the F-35s for unconventional missions.

So, if you want to pick one of these scenarios, both are the ‘best.’

There’s no clear answer to which fighter jet is better because it really depends.

It’s best not to compare them, as they would serve their purpose if they worked in unison.

Paired together, it might just be nearly impossible to beat the duo.

You would need skills straight out of a sci-fi movie to outplay them.

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