The F-15 Eagle has the best record in the history of air-to-air combat. In 30 years of service with air forces around the world, it has (unofficially) shot down 104 enemy fighters and helicopters, with zero losses. Incidentally, those victories were registered by the U.S. Air Force, the Israeli Air Force and the Royal Saudi Air Force; the totals do not include the accidental downing of two Army Blackhawk helicopters by USAF F-15s in 1993, nor an inadvertent shoot-down of a Japanese F-15 (by another F-15J) in 1995, the result of a missile malfunction.
Obviously, the USAF hopes that the new F-22 Raptor can that surpass the Eagle's combat record, and if training exercises are any indication, then the fifth-generation fighter may be on its way. During its combat exercise "debut" last year, F-22s scored an "unprecedented" kill ratio of 144-0. Twelve Raptors (from Langley AFB, VA) participated in the drill (nicknamed "Northern Edge), which was held in Alaska.
Those numbers create the impression of an almost-invulnerable F-22--something the Air Force doesn't exactly discourage. But more recently, Langley F-22s also participated in a Red Flag exercise at Nellis AFB, Nevada, held in February of this year. The Raptors reportedly racked up an impressive kill total during simulated air combat at Red Flag, but there were also reports that "adversary air" may have scored a victory against an F-22. Aviation Week reported the event in its 5 March 2007 issue, and more recently, Air Force Times reprinted that claim.
Our own inquiry largely confirms the original Aviation Week story, which stated that the Raptor was "killed" by an adversary fighter that had been previously blasted by another F-22. Under engagement rules, "red air" fighters were required to exit the area and "regenerate" before re-entering the fight. The adversary jet did just that; an F-22 pilot apparently thought his opponent was still "dead" and paid for that mistake.
We're also told that the Raptor was definitely "killed" by a pilot from one of Nellis's Aggressor squadrons, not an F/A-18 as some have claimed. The Aggressor units, which fly F-15s and F-16s, are trained to mimic adversary tactics, providing a highly realistic "threat." Our source said the aggressor pilot described the F-22 kill as a "one in a million shot." He also confirmed the assessment of one of his colleagues (an Australian exchange pilot) who said the Raptor "denies your ability to put a weapons system on it," even when you can see it through the canopy.
Our source also tells us that the "favored" time to take a shot at the Raptor is after it exits the fight, and makes its rendezvous with the tanker. We're not sure how that squares with the ROE, but (presumably) the F-22 is less stealthy when its on/near the "boom," making it a slightly easier target. As a combat tactic, that probably wouldn't work; tanker orbits are located well behind the contested airspace (for obvious reasons), and enemy fighters would have to fight their way through other Raptor elements, in an effort to ambush F-22s while they refuel.
By our calculations, a kill ratio of 200-1 (or better) in simulated combat is pretty damn good, and the F-22 seems to be meeting its lofty expectations. But then again, if you're only buying 183 aircraft, the Raptor will have to generate some pretty impressive numbers to ensure air dominance in the decades to come.