Experienced Pilots Win Battles, Not Expensive Stealth Aircraft

F-22 Raptor ($216 million each). Photo: Lockheed.

In a recent article published on the Fox News website, author Dr. Rebecca Grant argues that the F-22 Raptor is far superior to anything the Chinese or Russians have, and is basically unstoppable, but her conclusions are all based on the false assumptions that stealth fighters are invincible and are more important than well-trained pilots in air combat, and that is simply not true. She declares, “The F-22 does things no other fighter can do. First, it is shaped for stealth, meaning enemy radars can’t track it very well. Materials in the gray paint scheme absorb radar, too. You can see the F-22 carries its air-to-air missiles inside weapons bays, not under the wings, to preserve that stealth. In the F-22’s nose is a giant, sophisticated radar that comes in handy for tracking bad guy airplanes at long distances – or finding intruding “objects” in American airspace. F-22s have a low probability of intercept inflight datalink, meaning their pilots can share screens and communicate without detection.” I would point out that old fashioned low frequency radars can easily detect stealth aircraft, and such aircraft have been successfully detected and shot down by the Serbs.

China too has already claimed that it has developed new radar that can do the very same thing, and if true, that should give Dr. Grant room for pause. For every measure there is a countermeasure, and many countries have countermeasures available to deal with super expensive stealth aircraft like the Raptor.

Nowhere in her article does Dr. Grant talk about the low flying hours USAF fighter pilots are getting these days, and low hours means poor performance. According to my calculations, the average F-22 pilot got only about 12.8 hours a month in the air in 2018, which is pathetic. National Review reported in 2013 that Chinese pilots got more hours than their potential adversaries in the USAF as well and given the ongoing downward trend in USAF flying hours this may not have changed, and it might have gotten even worse since then. In 2022, for example, it was reported that USAF flying hours were dismal, averaging just 10.1 a month. In my second book, I quoted ace Brigadier General Chuck Yeager, who spoke on the subject of pilot experience in combat. He said: “a more experienced pilot will always get the better of you, no matter what you’re flying. It’s dead simple.”

Even if the F-22 was really the “most superior” fighter in the world, it’s poorly trained, promotion-obsessed pilots are not capable of dealing with peer rivals who actually give their pilots the hours they need to be proficient in combat. My advice to the USAF is to spend more on training and get rid of all the F-22s as soon as possible. The process has already begun, with the USAF hoping to retire a significant percentage of its Raptors in the near future.  Now let’s get fighter pilots flying at least 30-50 hours a month, and when that happens, the USAF might stand a chance in the next big war.


Rebecca Grant, “China, Russia can’t top our fabulous F-22 fighters” Fox News website, March 2, 2023.

Roger Thompson, “The F-35: Sales to Allied Countries Don’t Mean It’s A Great Airplane” CounterPunch, December 19. 2022.

Michael Peck, “RIP F-35 and F-22: China Claims It Has Radar That Can Detect Stealth Aircraft” The National Interest, May 29, 2019.

Thompson, “Is The USAF Really The Best Trained Air Force In The World?” CounterPunch, November 19, 2022.

Michael Auslin, “U.S. Air Force Pilots Fly Less Than China’s Do” National Review, December 20, 2013.

John A. Tirpak, “Air Force Flying Hours Decline After Brief Recovery” Air & Space Forces Magazine, June 1, 2022.

Thompson, Lessons Not Learned: The U.S. Navy’s Status Quo Culture (p. 118). Naval Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Sebastien Roblin, “F-22 Raptor Retirement? Why The Air Force Wants To Dump 33 Stealth Fighters” 1945 website, April 9, 2022.

Roger Thompson is a research fellow at Dalhousie University’s Centre for the Study of Security and Development, the author of Lessons Not Learned: The US Navy’s Status Quo Culture, a former researcher at Canada’s National Defence Headquarters and Korea’s first Star Trek professor.