The FB-22 stealth mid-range bomber project had been canceled by the Pentagon since 2006
In 2001, Lockheed Martin Corporation began studying the feasibility of a medium-range bomber based on the F-22 stealth fighter. The project was developed based on experience from Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, which demonstrated the role and effectiveness of strike aircraft in a battlefield with little to no air defense threat. The FB-22 project was born in response to the US Air Force’s need for a medium-range bomber that could bridge the gap between fighter capabilities and long-range bombers. If successful, the FB-22 could be the world’s best stealth bomber.
In terms of roles, the FB-22 will replace older aircraft, such as the retired F-111 Aardvark, the F-117 Nighthawk. This proposed concept was even said to be as effective in combat as the super-expensive B-2s. There were even claims that the FB-22 will be stealthier and more agile than the B-2, meaning the Strike Raptor will be able to go places the B-2 can’t.
Several modifications have been proposed to convert the F-22 into a bomber, in order to significantly increase its range and weapon payload. In early design, Lockheed Martin left the fuselage intact as it enlarged the wing to a more delta shape. The wing, which was around three times that of the F-22, enabled the storage of a much larger amount of weapons and fuel. Various figures give the payload of the FB-22 to be 30 to 35 Small Diameter Bombs; this is compared to the F-22’s payload of eight of such 250-pound (110 kg) weapons.
Unlike the F-22, the FB-22 was designed to be able to carry bombs up to 5,000 pounds (2,300 kg) in size. With stealth, the aircraft’s maximum combat load was to have been 15,000 pounds (6,800 kg); without stealth, 30,000 pounds (13,600 kg). Range was almost tripled from 600 miles (970 km) to more than 1,600 miles (2,600 km), which could have been extended by external fuel tanks.
The design could also have been adapted to use a more powerful engine, such as the F-35 Lightning II’s Pratt & Whitney F135, or the General Electric F136. The FB-22 was to have a maximum speed of Mach 1.92. Because the aircraft was to emphasize air-to-ground capability while maintaining stealth characteristics, the FB-22 would have lacked dogfighting capability.
The FB-22 faced a major challenge in finding a way to carry as many bombs as possible without compromising the aircraft’s stealth. In 2004, Lockheed Martin officially presented the FB-22 to the Air Force to meet its requirement for a potential strategic bomber as an interim solution to become operational by 2018.
The idea of the FB-22 had its supporters, but after the US launched the war on terror in the Middle East, the use of stealth technology was no longer as useful as ground combat operations, and the FB-22 bomber plan was eventually shelved.
Experts say that although the FB-22 never existed, the discussions surrounding the aircraft and the lessons learned from the process may have helped bring the top secret B-21 Raider stealth bomber into active development. Developed by Northrop Grumman Corporation, the B-21 is considered to be the most advanced stealth bomber in history.