October 15, 2009: For the first time, a U.S. F-22 fighter is going to the Middle East. Not to fight, but to be shown at the Dubai Air Show in November. The manufacturer, Lockheed, is bringing in its F-22, which it cannot export, to attract crowds and impress potential buyers of the aircraft it can export (the C-130, P-3 and F-16).
The F-22 has not been sent to Iraq or Afghanistan because it's not needed. While the F-22 is basically an air superiority fighter, it would be overkill for the only local threat (Iran, and it's collection of elderly and poorly maintained warplanes.) Moreover, Iraq and Afghanistan contains some nasty atmospheric conditions (especially lots of fine dust), which Lockheed would rather find out about gradually, by sending one over there, and examining it carefully when it gets back.
The F-22 can also serve as a bomber, but, again, this job is being handled by cheaper, and just as capable, aircraft. Some F-22s will be used as bombers in future conflicts. To prepare for that, last year the air force reactivated an F-117 "Stealth Fighter" squadron (the 7th Fighter Squadron) and equipped it with F-22 fighters. Because of its extraordinary performance characteristics, and stealthiness, the F-22 can perform bombing missions previously taken care of by the F-117. The most dangerous of these involves attacks on enemy air defense systems. Once those defenses are damaged, less stealthy aircraft can go in with less risk of getting shot down. The F-22 is also the most effective air-to-air fighter available.
The 36 ton F-22 has internal bomb bays, to enhance stealthiness. Thus it can carry two, half ton, smart bombs, or eight 250 pound SDBs (ground penetrating Small Diameter Bombs) internally, in addition to a pair of air-to-air missiles. If fewer bombs are carried, six air-to-air missiles can go in the four internal bomb bays. Using the external hard points, which makes the aircraft more visible on radar, an F-22 can carry about four tons of bombs and missiles.
The F-22 has the most advanced radar and electronic warfare gear of any jet fighter. When you include the cost of research and development, each F-22 ends up costing nearly $400 million. But for pilots in combat, it's money well spent.
The F-117 was based on 1970s technology and entered service in 1983. It was actually a 24 ton light bomber. It had two internal bomb bays, and typically carried two laser guided bombs. The F-117 was not a fighter, and was not as stealthy as the F-22. Only 59 were built and, taking inflation into account, cost about as much as a F-22. The last F-117s were retired last year.