What’s up…danger?

The first air-to-air kill for the F-22 Raptor fighter jet was truly something to behold, even if the adversary was not of much fighting capability.


Jamal Wilson

A U.S. Air Force F-22 “Raptor” assigned to the Third Fighter Wing flies over Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska in 2018. The same type of airplane was used to neutralize a Chinese balloon flying over U.S. airspace in February 2023.

Ishan Pahwa, Staff Writer

   On Feb. 4, a Lockheed Martin F-22 “Raptor” of the United States Air Force (USAF) successfully intercepted and shot down what has been suspected of being a Chinese surveillance balloon that loitered over airspace off the southern coast of the United States. 

   According to United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the route that the balloon travelled allowed it to hover past ballistic missile fields as well as a base housing the most sophisticated bomber aircraft the United States has ever deployed: the Northrop Grumman B-2 “Spirit” stealth bomber. However, the Pentagon employed strategies to ensure that “strategic assets,” or the U.S. nuclear force, was free from the prying eyes of the balloon, according to CBS News. 

   “All of our strategic assets – we were, made sure that we were buttoned down and movement was limited and communications were limited so that we didn’t expose any capability unnecessarily,” Austin stated in an interview with CBS Sunday News. This was the first time that the Defense Secretary has spoken since the threat of the balloon was exterminated the first week of February.   

    The United States Navy recovered the majority of pieces belonging to the balloon itself. According to Austin, the Navy is now preparing to resurrect bits and pieces of the cameras, antennas and other surveillance equipment that the balloon was burdened with. “We’ve mapped out the debris field and now we’ll go through detailed efforts to recover the debris that’s on the ocean floor,” Austin explained. 

   This is not the first time that a Chinese surveillance balloon has violated American airspace. There have been reports of balloons loitering over the airspaces of Hawaii, Texas and Florida during the Trump Administration and one at the beginning of the current Biden Administration. As of writing, a total of four unidentified objects have been intercepted and neutralized by both U.S. and Canadian forces, all believed to be reconnaissance balloons despite China’s claims that they were merely weather balloons that drifted off course. The most recent object was shot down over Lake Huron, one of the five great lakes situated between the United States and Canada. 

   The aircraft involved in the shootdown was none other than the F-22 “Raptor” stealth fighter jet developed by American defense corporation Lockheed Martin. The F-22 is the most advanced fighter jet in the U.S. arsenal, and is capable of both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions against enemy forces. Besides its stealth capabilities, which remain classified, the aircraft is renowned for its supermaneuverability provided by its two Pratt and Whitney F119 engines, whose nozzles can pivot up and down in order to perform extremely tight turns and other such manoeuvres. The aircraft can achieve a top speed of Mach 1.8, or about 1,334 miles per hour, and its speed is complemented by its advanced radar system, the AN/APG-77.

   With this sophisticated radar system, the F-22 has a “first look, first to shoot” advantage, whereby it is capable of locating enemy aircraft and neutralizing them before the enemy even has a chance to react. The primary armament of the aircraft are the standard M61A2 20 millimeter cannon, AIM-9M “Sidewinder” heat-seeking missile and the AIM-120C Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), with the AMRAAM being used to shoot down all of the balloons. Due to the stealthy nature of the plane, the weapons bays open up at the very last second, “uncloaking” the F-22 for but a few seconds as it can now be somewhat tracked on enemy radar.