With the proliferation of 5th generation fighter aircraft to Russia and China, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the F-35 is insufficient for gaining air superiority over a peer competitor in the near future. The F-35, while a high-tech marvel in its own right, suffers from too many design compromises to serve as a dedicated air-superiority platform against competitors built to rival the F-22. While the F-22 remains the world’s best fighter in service, it is no longer in production, and to restart the line would require an eye-watering amount of money. Therefore, critics rightly point out that new-build F-22As would be foolish at this point in time.
However, an upgraded F-22 variant could offer an alternative to a new 6th generation fighter design. By building off a pre-existing design, Lockheed Martin could create a high-performance aircraft faster and cheaper than a completely new aircraft. A suitable design may already be available in the form of the X-44 MANTA concept, a tailless delta-wing Raptor variant which was purposed by never built in the 2000s. The X-44 would have offered greater mobility and payload than the F-22. While such an aircraft might not offer as radical off an increase in performance that a new-build 6th generation fighter might, a hypothetical “5.5 gen” fighter would likely prove more than sufficient when combating the J-20 and PAK-FA. Therefore, a new-build F-22 derivative is worthy of consideration.
ADDENDUM: A critic might suggest that the cheapest option would be to avoid fighting World War III in the first place, but where is the fun in that?