Why did Lockheed Martin give the F-22 stealth fighter such small fuel tanks while the F-35 got much more fuel capacity relative to its size and single jet engine?


1 Answer 1


The F-22 was developed in the 90's, primarily for use by the United States Air Force. This means it was designed to serve specific mission profiles. The F-35 however is going to replace the F-22 and serve all the air branches of the US Military. This means that it needed a broader mission profile. The last F-22 delivery was in 2016.

For the F-22 Raptor:

  • Range: >1,600 nmi (1,841 mi, 2,963 km) with 2 external fuel tanks
  • Ferry range: 1,740 nmi (2,000 mi, 3,220 km)
  • Combat radius:
       460 nmi (529 mi, 851 km) clean with 100 nmi (115 mi, 185 km) in supercruise
       590 nmi (679 mi, 1,093 km) clean subsonic
  • Service ceiling: 65,000 ft (20,000 m)

And for the F-35 Lightning II:

  • Range: 1,500 nmi (1,700 mi, 2,800 km) +
  • Combat range:
       669 nmi (770 mi, 1,239 km) - Combat radius
       760 nmi (870 mi; 1,410 km) - Combat radius (interdiction mission on internal fuel, for internal air to air configuration)
  • Service ceiling: 50,000 ft (15,000 m) +

You can see that the F-22 range (not the combat radius) is very similar to the F-35. The problem with the F-35 is that because it is available in VTOL configuration, it burns a lot more fuel. The VTOL F-35 (F-35B) only has a mission radius of 505nmi. This is because during VTOL operations the F-35 burns an incredible amount of fuel. So much so that a VTOL take-off usually requires mid-air refueling shortly after take-off.

Either way this boils down to a trade-off between how much gas to carry and how much weapons and other systems to stuff into the aircraft. The VTOL versions need much more complicated internal systems that take up a lot of space, so the range and payload suffer. Tanks can be mounted on external hard-points, but then radar cross-section becomes much bigger and maneuverability is decreased.

With mid-air refueling all the aircraft must really do is be able to go from a friendly area where the tanker is, complete the mission, and get back to the tanker, so range isn't as important as versatility.

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    $\begingroup$ "VTOL operations the F-35 burns an incredible amount of fuel" I always wonder how true this is. It feels more like VTOL limits the amount of fuel that you can take. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 21:42
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    $\begingroup$ The F-35 was never designed to replace the F-22. It was designed as a replacement for the F-15, F-16, F-18, A-10 and probably other types as well to complement the F-22. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 22:07
  • $\begingroup$ Wrong choice of words, it will take over for the F-22 since they are no longer delivering the Raptor. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 23:16
  • $\begingroup$ Actually the reason for the lower combat radius in the F-35B is the lift fan kit decreases the total internal fuel volume of the airplane. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 1:17
  • $\begingroup$ As the F-35 was intended to serve a ground support role, it needs "loitering capability", i.e. it needs fuel to stay in the combat zone, in case something pops up. The F-22 in contrast, was designed for interception and air superiority in mind. In both roles you either have a limited mission (interception), or tankers around (air superiority). Thus, you can live with smaller fuel capacity. $\endgroup$
    – Dohn Joe
    Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 8:06

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