An RAAF F-22 Pilot Explains the Dramatic Shift to Fifth Generation


2014-03-23 During the Williams Foundation seminar held in March 11, 2014 in Canberra, the RAAF’s exchange pilot who became a proficient F-22 pilot, RAAF Fighter Pilot Matthew Harper, explained what it was like to become a 5th generation pilot.

Not surprisingly, Harper has an impressive background.

He has over 2000 hours flying fighters (including the F-22, the F-18F and F-18A).

His fifth generation experience is equally impressive.  He has nearly four years flying the F-22A.  He was an F-22 mission commander, an F-22A instructor pilot and an F-22A SEFE.

He became an F-22 pilot because of the decision of the then COS of the USAF (“Buzz” Mosley) and the then Secretary of the USAF (Mike Wynne) to put other service and coalition partners into F-22 squadrons to learn what the leap to 5th generation was all about.

And a leap it is.

The term 4th to 5th generation suggests a gradual step grade function, much like the evolution of airpower over the past 50 years.

Fifth generation is not a step grade; it is a leap into a whole new way of doing air combat and combat operations. 

Harper went out of his way to describe the “unlearning” process that is necessary from operating his Super Hornet to flying the F-22.

Buying fourth generation aircraft is not a holding pattern for the future; it is being left behind in a different historical epoch. 

It is about as dramatic as doing cavalry charges with horses and Blitzkrieg warfare; something that did not work out very well for Poland in 1939.

For Harper, the systems in the fifth generation aircraft, which take a giant leap forward with the F-35, provide the pilot with a decision making role, not an overburdened “look at your screens” and sort out what to do role.

He summarized the impact that he saw with three key examples:

First, within the first 30 minutes of sitting down in the simulator, he grasped that his ability to dominate the air space with the F-22 was clear.

Second, the abilities of the pilots are significantly augmented with fifth generation capabilities.  He cited a recent example where a USAF pilot with only 350 total flight hours flew in Red Flag and dominated his airspace.  For Harper, this would be virtually impossible to imagine in any other plane.

Third, he cited the experience of a USAF F-15C pilot who told him:

“I have more SA with only 20 hours on the F-22A than I ever had with over 1500 hours on the F-15C.”

5th Gen

The overarching point of the presentation was that the fifth generation experience was about disruptive change, not evolution.  You needed to get into the fifth generation platform to experience the change and learn how to shape tactics and concepts of operations relevant to 21st century operations, rather than perfecting your 20th century piloting skills.

He went out of his way to compare the Super Hornet to the F-22A with a core focus on how the former was NO WAY the later.  Whereas the F-22A was an SA and information dominance machine, the Super Hornet was a classic aircraft which had the limitations of any airplane not built from the ground up to be an information dominance aircraft for the 21st century battlespace.

Super Hornet

While the Super Hornet is a significant upgrade from the Hornet, it is not and never will be able to deliver what a fifth generation aircraft can deliver: integrated data fusion and re-shaping the pilot and squadron roles in prosecuting air dominance and support to the joint force in the battlespace.

In short, the leap ahead is crucial; and reworking the culture of the RAAF will be necessary to leverage the disruptive technology built into fifth generation aircraft.

Also, see the following: