Exclusive: What nobody else will tell you about the U.S. F-22 stealth fighters deployed near Iran

Apr 30 2012 - 33 Comments

Update May 2, 2012 16.05 GMT

The news that multiple F-22 stealth fighters were deployed “near Iran” has already been reported by the most important media outlets all around the world.

However, nobody has been able to provide some important details that could be useful to better understand the scope of this overseas deployment: when did the Raptors deploy? How many aircraft were deployed? Where?

And, above all, are those plane capable to perform strike missions in addition to the standard air-to-air sorties?

Thanks to the information provided by several sources, The Aviationist is able to fill the gaps, provide a more accurate view of the deployment and debunk some myths that fueled the media hype.

The six F-22 Raptors currently at Al Dhafra, UAE, belong to the 49th Fighter Wing, based at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. They flew as “Mazda 91″ to Moron, Spain, on Apr. 17 and departed again for their final destination on Apr. 20.

Since they spent some 4 days in Spain, during their stay, the stealthy planes were photographed by several local spotters that were able to provide the exact list of all the examples involved in the deployment:

#04-4078, #04-4081, #05-4093, #05-4094, #05-4098, #05-4099.

If they were not willing to let the world know of such deployment they would not make a stopover in Spain, during daylight.

They are all Block 3.0 (or Block 30) examples meaning that neither of them has received  the latest upgrade (Block 3.1) that has brought the capability to find and engage ground targets using the Synthetic Aperture Radar mapping and eight GBU-39 SDBs (Small Diameter Bombs) to the troubled stealthy fighter.

Therefore they are hardly involved in any build-up process in the region, since their role in case of war on Iran would be limited to the air-to-air arena: mainly fighter sweep (missions with the aim to seek out and destroy enemy aircraft prior to the arrival of the strike package), HVAA (High Value Air Asset) escort and DCA (Defensive Counter Air).

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

Considered the limited effectiveness of the Iranian Air Force, it is much more likely that the F-22s involved in any kind of attack on Iran would be those of the 3rd Fighter Wing, based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, in Alaska, that was the first U.S. Air Force unit to receive the Block 3.1 planes and has already started training in the air-to-surface role.

Furthermore, the deployment is among those scheduled several month in advance and this is not the first time the F-22 deploys in the United Arab Emirates. In November 2009, some 1st Fighter Wing’s Raptors from Langley AFB, flew to Al Dhafra, to train with the French Air Force Rafales and the RAF Typhoons during exercise ATLC 2009. The episode is quite famous because in late December of the same year the French Ministry of Defense released the captures taken by the Rafale’s OSF (Optronique Secteur Frontal) showing an F-22 in aerial combat. In fact, although the U.S. Air Force pilots told that their plane was undefeated during the exercise, the French were killed once in six 1 vs 1 WVR (Within Visual Range) engagements versus the F-22 (the other 5 ended with a “draw”) and one Raptor was claimed as killed by a UAE Mirage 2000 during a mock engagement.

Here’s the famous capture released at the time and published for the first time by Air & Cosmos magazine.

Image credit: French MoD via Air & Cosmos

  • Bill R.

    This does not tell the whole story, either. What were the ROE? When I worked F-16s there we’d usually rules that partially negated the F-15s superiority to give the 16s a slight edge.

    • http://theaviationist.com/ David Cenciotti

      Hi Bill,
      you’r right, but the focus of the article is not the F-22 dogfighting capability. If you read the other articles linked in the post you’ll find that I’ve already explained that such HUD or sensors’ captures are just marketing stuff unless the scenario and ROE are explained.

  • Prince Rupprecht

    So. Ve friendly Amerikaners can talk about veakenesses now, ya?

  • great unknown

    Alternatively, they are ostentatiously there to tell the Israelis that if they attempt an air attack on Iran, they might run into unexpected resistance.

    • Jhn1

      That sounds about “right”.
      Kill the people trying to damage the major enhancements to the capability of the people training and supplying the Islamic Supremacists killing our troops.

  • http://N/A SShiell

    And what is the role of these deployed fighters? Are they there to protect assets? And whose assets are they protecting? The obvious answer is protecting the west from any Iranian attempt to close the Straits of Hormuz by the Iranian Air Force. But – on a very different note – they could be there to protect iran from a possible Israeli incrusion. Considering Obama’s deference to Iran and his hostility toward Israel (his words notwithstanding), you have to wonder.

    • Art

      Which leaves one the question of whether Israel also feels that this might be the situation. If so it could be a time dependent scenario, such as- if Israel attacks before or after the election, so and so will occur.

      Clearly the Obama administration is trying to get through the election without the Middle-East blowing up, and knows that Israel feels it will benefit from having a Romney win.

      Kinda reminds me of an international version of Obama standing in front of an Israeli mirror saying, “You talking to me?”

  • Jack Spectre

    I believe the K/D ratio vs. US Hornets is something like 29:1. And remember, these are simulated kills. Would the missiles actually have kept their lock? Would evasive manuevers and decoys or ECM have caused the missile to fail?

    That screen shot of the “kill” doesn’t mean anything. Nobody will really know for sure until somebody shoots a real missile at it during a time of war.

    • http://theaviationist.com/ David Cenciotti

      I concur, even if current ACMI pods are able to determine if evasive maneuvers and decoys would have had an effect on missile lock.

      • CheetahFang258

        Engagement was strictly guns only too, F-22 should have been pulling flares if it was a missile engagement. Like they did with the F-15 at the 2012 Raytheon award.

  • exception

    How many simulated shootdowns have there been of F-15s, and how many actual F-15s have been shotdown by aiecraft?

    • http://twitter.com/Jewtastic Ron M. (@Jewtastic)

      That’s a very fine point. Greetings from Israel.

  • mfsheldon

    There is zero chance of a kill against a Raptor from the position in the guncam capture.

    The Rafale is to the side and below the target which is the WORST position to fire from. The missile wastes most of it’s initial kinetic energy climbing and turning.

    The F-22 would bank left and inside the missile with ease and leave the missile wandering into the wild blue yonder.

    For all we know the Raptor is turning inside the Rafale. Crossing the line of sight does not constitute a simulated kill.

    A gun kill would be possible if the Rafale was turning to hold the position on the F-22, but it is obviously not turning.

    This Raptor flashed across the field of vision in an instant based on this still, not even close to enough time for a tracking system to lock onto it, if that is even feasible for a Rafale.

    Marketing, pure marketing.

  • BMF

    I wouldn’t put it past this administration to position the F-22s to deter the Israelis.

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t put it past the Israelis to have a plan to negate the F-22s.

    Remember Entebbe? No one in the world expected the Israelis to execute such a high risk raid over such a long distance.

    Remember the strike against the Iraqi nuclear plant? Though I don’t know if Israel notified the US prior.

    Remember the strike against the Syrian nuclear facility? I’m almost certain that the US did not know prior–but who knows.

    Personally, I don’t think the Israelis are as good as they were in the 1960′s and 1970s. They have a lot of leaks in the government these days, and there are those who have been in high positions willing to alert foreign governments and/or news media of coming events.

    Still, I wouldn’t count out the Israelis to come up with something no one expects.

    If I were advising the Israeli government, I’d tell them never to send intent or instructions via electronic means and to keep any sensitive mission to as small a group as possible. All orders and plans would be transmitted by courier and/or at face to face meetings. And don’t alert foreign governments to your specific intentions or plans.

    A powerful leverage one country has over another is uncertainty. Paradoxically, a powerful leverage is also certainty.

    For example, countries knew when George W. Bush said that he was going to do something, it was going to happen. But they may not know how, when, or where. The perfect combination fo certainty and uncertainty.

    With the Obama administration, I’m not sure if governments are reacting to uncertainty vs certainty or if they are just in total confusion.

  • Sam Samerson

    Sorry to keep blowing holes in these posts but you are just wrong here. Just because some spotters saw a group of F-22s from one base does not mean others from other bases with 3.1 capability are not deployed as well. The assumptions made here as fact are mind boggling, I know the intentions are good but the conclusion here is false. I can only say that just as the F-15s were “rainbowed” into this deployment the F-22s were too. It maximizes lessons learned and does not overtax a single unit.

    Further, do you have the exact upgrade schedule and classifieds schedule for the F-22 fleet? Do you know how tails are being swapped between units at an amazing pace right now?

    You do good work, but sometimes the info is just wrong and overreaching conclusions are made.

    • http://theaviationist.com/ David Cenciotti

      You miss a point: when I write “several sources” I mean that literally. The article is not only based on the data coming from spotters. Mil sources are never willing to be mentioned but there are a lot more details that could not be provided at this time. Anyway, I can confirm that all the aircraft come from Holloman; no other units involved, no air-to-ground role. That’s it.
      If think my conclusions or info are wrong, why should reader think yours are right? Can you prove it?
      If you can I’m more than willing to fix the article or publish a correction. It may happen but, fact checking is the base of my work and I’ve never published anything I wasn’t sure about unless dubbing it speculation, rumor or theory.

  • David

    I have to say that while the depth of research and conclusions reached by that research appears sound, I disagree with the overarching conclusion that these aircraft couldn’t be used for a force build-up or possible operations in the region.

    Looking at U.S. forces in the region alone, between the USAF, USN and USMC there are plenty of bomb droppers available. The F-22A would make the perfect OCA/DCA aircraft in support of a strike package.

    Further, the USAF has been touting the RAPTOR as the premier, second-to-none aircraft in the air-to-air arena. If operations were planned, it would make much more sense to use it in the air-to-air role to provide real-world evidence of the claims. As I stated before, there are plenty of strike capable aircraft already around. Why “waste” a peerless asset in a role that others can (and do) perform as well or better?

    Just my two cents…..

  • Albert1

    Well said David, you’re entrusted by the community. However, I’d point out that the OBOGS is not that efficient on other assets. Actually I don’t know much about how well it works on the F-22, but surely the industry ought to be eager to put in place some action to improve OBOGS here and there. And if they can’t, they’d better find a strategy that doesn’t involve just patching & marketing. The upgrade may cost, right. But keep on avoiding is not any cheaper.

  • sky

    -”the French were able to score one kill in six 1 vs 1 WVR (Within Visual Range) engagements versus the F-22 (the other 5 ended with a “draw”).”

    No, the kill was for the F-22. Nevertheless, Rafale pilots were happy with the result (5 draws and 1 loss) because it was their first encounter with the Raptor (which is a powerful aircraft with TVC).

    In another engagement, a French Mirage 2000 instructor scored a gun kill on a F-22 with an Emirati Mirage 2000-9.

    - “the French Ministry of Defense released the captures taken by the Rafale’s OSF (Optronique Secteur Frontal) showing an F-22 killed in aerial combat. ”

    No, it doesn’t represent a kill, it’s just a picture through the OSF. None of the OSF pictures released by the French Ministry of Defense represented a kill.

    • http://theaviationist.com/ David Cenciotti

      Thanks for pointing this out. It makes much more sense now.

    • forTheTruth

      Nobody told the rafale has killed a F22. On 6 fights, the so famous F22 killed only once the rafale. For a fighter most of americans like to describe as an old airframe, i think this score is quite very good

      • CheetahFang258

        Let me clear this up
        6 Rounds
        5 Draws
        1 Raptor Victory
        0 Rafale victories
        Now before you get your panties in a twist let me explain why the photos in this don’t represent a victory. If you reviewed the combat footage you notice that the Rafale terminates the exercise awfully quickly. This is because of a lower fuel amount which made the plane lighter. Simple logic…

  • http://www.legiero.blog.hu Zord Gábor László

    The question is not about the F-22 here. The question is the deployment of dedicated A-A assets close to Iran (F-15Cs also), which was not routine during Iraqi Freedom/Endurig Freedom, which was multirole/CAS heavy. What it means to me is that they really expect an airborne resistance vs. the usual “we will be able to neutralize them on the ground”. Of course, the geographical depth of Iran makes it unlikely to prevent the bulk of their interceptor force from taking off.What happens in the air then is a different question, with the outcome of F-22/F-15C vs F-14/F-5/F-4/MiG-29/etc. seems very much obvious.But do not forget, that the big problem of Iran is the lack of information. Their aircraft (radar/SAMs) are very much different compared to their originally acquired form. And it is always what you do not know and see which is going to hit you.

  • mikmac

    Wow, what a crappy image. The Apache’s Alpha model 70s era thermal energy camera has much better resolution.

    • Ano N. Ymous

      It’s cropped from a much larger frame from a video. What do you expect, “Zoom and enhance” only works in CSI.

  • mikmac

    Maybe the Israelies could make a deal. We wont attack Iran if you let us have some missile defense technology along with a F22 fleet as a deterrent compensation…

    • Andyj

      Israel: Friends with no benefits.

  • Andyj

    Plenty of the “My planes bigger than yours. ner ner!” here.

    There are too many tales of “kills” against the F22 on dogfights. The Amraam rocket motor has been found unwilling to perform when very cold which leaves the high, fast and stealthy F22 without any teeth in its home ground.

    Add on it’s air supply suffocating the pilots and the G suits failing I’m not surprised they are relegated to ground attack against Iran. I must tell you when in ground attack mode they are low flying, bristling, non-stealthy man-pad meat.

  • Voice_of_Reason

    “in fact, the French were killed once…” is NOT a fact. It is an assertion. The French are known for claiming everything and anything that is even close as a “kill”.

    Until your “fact” has some EVIDENCE, it only a boast.

  • CheetahFang258
  • CheetahFang258

    http://www.aereo.jor.br/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Typhoon-no-HUD-do-Rafale1.JPG

    “Mirage 2000 got a kill on F-22″ No it didn’t get a kill I reviewed the image, The line barely clipped the wing and even if it got a “kill” it was certainly lucky that the F-22 was doing a turn like that because if its banking like that then it goes into post stall maneuvering and bleeds its energy. Also its just a picture through the OSF… The picture I am showing is a Mirage 2000 kill on a Eurofighter Typhoon…