Once there, the aircraft will replace the U.S. Air Force Raptors already there for a 6-month rotational deployment that will see the aircraft take part in Operation Inherent Resolve in the airspaces of Iraq and Syria: although they can attack their own targets using Precision Guided Munitions (two 1,000-lb GBU-32 JDAMs or 8 GBU-39 small diameter bombs) while covering other aircraft in a typical swing role mission, the F-22 have proved to be useful in the air war against ISIS by making other aircraft more survivable, acting as electronic warfare enabled sensor-rich multi-role aircraft that provide “kinetic situational awareness” to other aircraft involved in the air strikes.
For the 199th Fighter Squadron this is the first combat tour of duty since the deployed to Saudi Arabia in 2000, to patrol the southern NFZ (No Fly Zone) of Iraq. At that time the squadron flew the F-15 Eagle; it transitioned to the F-22 Raptor in 2010, flying the 5th Generation stealth planes in partnership with the 19th Fighter Squadron.
On their way to the Middle East, the aircraft made a stopover in Moron, Spain, and Sigonella, Italy.
The Raptor deployment had already been announced in June, when Air Force Secretary, at Le Bourget airshow in Paris, said that Russia was the “biggest threat” her mind, but it now appears to be few days away.
So far the U.S. has responded to the proxy war in Ukraine and to the spike in Russia Air Force activity in the Baltic region with two 6-month TSPs (Theater Security Packages), made up of F-15s and A-10s, and stepping up its presence at regional exercises with NATO allies and partners, attended also by B-52 strategic bombers and A-10 attack planes.
Raptors have often taken part in rotational deployments in the Asia-Pacific region since 2009, but have never been deployed to Europe. It would be interesting to know which airbases are being considered for such deployment that should include 12 aircraft and 200-300 support personnel even though the aircraft will probably not be stationed at a single base but will perform short rotations to a few airports in eastern Europe as already done by the F-15s and A-10s of the previous TSPs (that have visited Germany, UK, Poland, Estonia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, etc.).
However, according to the U.S. Air Force, during the air campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the once troubled stealth plane has emerged as F-22 is pivotal to ensure the safety of the other aircraft involved in the air campaign: the Raptors act as “electronic warfare enabled sensor-rich multi-role aircraft” that provide key kinetic situational awareness to other aircraft: they escort strike packages into and out of the target area while gathering details about the enemy systems and spreading intelligence to other “networked” assets supporting the mission to improve the overall situational awareness.
Although they were not conceived to play this kind of role, F-22 Raptors have emerged as some of the U.S.-led Coalition’s most reliable combat assets in supporting coalition planes during air strikes in Syria and Iraq.
Even though the largest number of air strikes is carried out by other assets, it looks like the role played by the (once troubled) F-22 is pivotal to ensure the safety of the other aircraft involved in the air campaign: the Raptors act as “electronic warfare enabled sensor-rich multi-role aircraft” escorting strike packages into and out of the target area while gathering details about the enemy systems and spreading intelligence to other “networked” assets supporting the mission to improve the overall situational awareness.
“We are operating regularly in Iraq and Syria. The F-22’s advanced sensors and low-observable characteristics enable us to operate much closer to non-coalition surface-to-air missiles and fighter aircraft with little risk of detection,” said Lt. Col. J. (name withheld for security reasons) in a recent 380th Air Expeditionary Wing release. “We provide increased situational awareness for other coalition aircraft while simultaneously delivering precision air-to-ground weapons. This allows us to reduce the risk to our forces while mitigating the risk to civilian casualties, one of our highest priorities in this conflict. It is a true multirole aircraft.”
In simple words, the F-22 pilot leverage advanced onboard sensors, as the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, to collect valuable details about the enemy Order of Battle, then they share the “picture” with attack planes, command and control assets, as well as Airborne Early Warning aircraft, while escorting other manned or unmanned aircraft towards the targets. As happened when they facilitated the retaliatory air strikes conducted by the Royal Jordanian Air Force F-16s after the burning alive of the pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh captured on Dec. 24, 2014.
Needless to say, every now and then they can also attack their own targets using Precision Guided Munitions: two 1,000-lb GBU-32 JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) or 8 GBU-39 small diameter bombs, “which have been successfully employed against key ISIL targets. [The SDB] is extremely accurate from very long distances and has the lowest collateral damage potential of any weapon in our inventory.”
Therefore, although this may not be what the F-22 was conceived for, the U.S.’s premier air superiority fighter is excelling in a new role: making other aircraft more survivable in contested airspaces like Syria and Iraq.
“The guys that were working down out of Hurlburt, they’re combing through social media and they see some moron standing at this command. And in some social media, open forum, bragging about the command and control capabilities for Daesh, ISIL. And these guys go: ‘We got an in.’ So they do some work, long story short, about 22 hours later through that very building, three [Joint Direct Attack Munitions] take that entire building out.”
Although the U.S. Air Force did not release any further information about the location of the headquarters or the aircraft that carried out the attack, the story is quite interesting as it proves that not only are social media used by ISIS for propaganda and recruiting purposes, they are also used by U.S. intel team to identify ground targets, supplementing ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) activities conducted with the “usual” platforms, like satellites, spyplanes and UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles).
U.S. and NATO soldiers are always made aware of the risk of using social media and, generally speaking, digital technologies which embed information that can be exploited by the adversaries in various ways. Still OPSEC (Operations Security) breaches occur.
Top image shows an F-35A, at Edwards AFB, California,nexto to its F-35 Systems Development and Demonstration Weapons Suite the aircraft is designed to carry.
According to Lockheed Martin, the Joint Strike Fighter can carry more than 35-hundred pounds of ordinance in Low Observable (stealth) mode and over 18-thousand pounds uncontested.
The Lightning II is conducting testing required for full weapons certification through a campaign which included validating 2B weapons software and successfully executing several weapons separation and engagement tests.
“Comprehensive flight test on the F-35A variant GAU-22 25mm gun system is scheduled to begin mid-year at Edwards AFB, Calif., and will include ground fire tests, muzzle calibration, flight test integration and in-flight operational tests. The 25mm missionized gun pod carried externally, centerline mounted on the F-35B and F-35C also begins testing this year to meet U.S. service’s desired schedule for full warfighting capability software known as 3F. The 3F software is currently planned for delivery with the Low Rate Initial Production nine (LRIP 9) U.S. aircraft in 2017,” Lockheed Martin team say in a press release.
Among the most recent tests there is the first separation test of a GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb, a 250-lb. precision-guided glide weapon (Oct. 21) and multi-separation test (Nov. 20); first external flutter tests flown with the AIM-132 Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM) (Oct. 29) and Paveway IV missiles (Nov. 13); and the first supersonic-guided missile launch and the first JDAM release on target coordinates generated from the Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) (Nov. 18-25 ).