After 25 years of development and testing, the Air Force says it now has its most advanced fighter jet ready for duty.
"If we go to war tomorrow, the Raptor will go with us," said Air Combat Command Commander Gen. Ronald E. Keys.
The Air Force contends the F-22A Raptor will ensure America's air dominance for years to come.
According to the Air Force, the F-22A Raptor cost more than $40 billion to develop, produce and test. Each plane costs more than $130 million.
Pilots at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia have been training on the F-22 for the past year.
When the plane's first designs went to the drawing boards more than two decades ago, it was meant to counter any fighter jet the Soviet Union could put into the air.
When the Cold War ended, development continued, with testing at air bases in California, Florida, Tennessee, New Mexico, Nevada and Virginia. Critics said that with the demise of the Soviet Union, the United States no longer needed such an expensive fighter jet.
The Pentagon argued the cost was more than offset by the need for a plane that could deal with missile threats such as Russian-built, surface-to-air missiles that could be in the hands of America's enemies, including terrorists. The plane's defenders also said it would be needed if there is ever armed conflict between the U.S. and China.
"After reviewing our test results, seeing our operational deployment performance and talking to the pilots that will go to war with it, I am confident that the F-22A joins the combat force at a far more mature and capable level than any our previous great aircraft," Keys said.
Next June in Alaska, 12 radar-evading Raptors will take part in their first peacetime exercise deployment. The first combat-ready Raptors are assigned to the 27th Fighter Squadron, part of the 1st Fighter Wing.
In future conflicts, the F-22A will be used to knock out defenses in the air and on the ground, thereby clearing the way for other warplanes and forces on land.
The plane's developer, Lockheed Martin Corp., says it will remain "relevant for the next 40 years." Lockheed says the Raptor is twice as reliable and three times more effective than the plane it is replacing, the F-15C Eagle. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley said he hopes to buy 183 F-22s, a more modest goal than the 750 F-22s once envisioned.