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.
Turkish Air Force has been training for real operations like those in Iraq and Syria for 15 years.
On Jul. 24, Turkey launched “Operation Martyr Yalcin” against ISIS positions in Syria and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) positions in Northern Iraq.
The air strikes actually began in the early morning on Jul. 24, a day after Islamic State militants attacked a Turkish border patrol in the town of Elbeyli in Kilis Province, killing one soldier and injuring two others. The operation was named after the Turkish soldier killed in the initial attack, Yalçın Nane.
At around 3:40 LT three F-16s from 181 Filo took off from Diyarbakir airbase and bombed 3 ISIS positions in northern Syria dropping GBU-12 Paveway II laser guided bombs. The Turkish jets did not violate the Syrian airspace but dropped their bombs from inside the Turkish airspace.
Post strike analysis assessed 35 ISIS militants were killed by the first wave of raids that was followed later on the same day (starting around 22:30 LT) by a larger air strike against PKK positions in northern Iraq. The mission is said to have involved 20 F-16s from 181 Filo that according to witnesses and initial reports violated the Syrian and Iraqi air space.
The air strikes in Iraq allegedly killed the PKK commander Murat Karayılan among the others.
On Jul. 25, a third wave of air strikes was launched against PKK: it was divided into three sub-waves, the first and second of those involved 70 F-16s that conducted their mission, returned to Dyarbakir were re-armed and re-launched, and by a third wave reportedly conducted by 25 F-4E-2020 Phantoms from Eskisehir, temporarily deployed to Erhac.
In the subsequent days, F-16s (from 181 Filo with support from 161 Filo) from Dyarbakir, mainly focused on PKK positions in both in northern Iraq and inside Turkey, as well as on ISIS targets in northern Syria.
The Turkish Air Force has been preparing to conduct a similar air campaign for about 15 years through Anatolian Eagle (AE) series of exercises.
According to the first reports four crew members survived the incident and were captured by the Nusra Front and Islamic faction close to the capsized wreckage. One of the pilot was reportedly executed on site.
Now a video allegedly filmed inside the doomed helicopter was posted on Youtube. The clip was probably shot with one of the crew member’s smartphones captured by the opposition fighters.
It shows the cockpit, the operator’s console, radar, flight instruments (including an altimeter showing 5,000 meters). One of the pilots can be seen using a tablet and a handheld GPS.
H/T to Matt Fanning for sending us the link to the video
What makes the photograph interesting is the rather unusual loadout of the aircraft: two 2,000-lb GBU-31s carried under the right hand wing.
GBU-31s are heavy JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions), Mk-84 general purpose gravity bombs which integrate a GPS/INS guidance kit to improve accuracy and are suitable for those targets where adverse weather may affect laser guidance.
JDAMs autonomously navigate towards their designated target coordinates that can be loaded into the aircraft before take off, or manually or automatically entered through the onboard targeting system.
Although the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fleet carry JDAMs and, in particular, GBU-31s as a standard payload, you won’t find many images showing other “Rhinos” (as the Super Hornet is nicknamed in the U.S. Navy community) carrying two heavy 2,000-lb GBU-31s under the same wing: a sign that the coalition is still looking for targets in Syria and Iraq which require a significant destructive power and blast radius.
Generally speaking, U.S. Navy jets as well as other coalition aircraft carry a mixed-payload which may include lighter JDAMs and LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs), for more flexibility against targets of opporunity.