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

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

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. 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.

    • 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.

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

    • 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.

  3. 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.

    • 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?”

  4. 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.

      • 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.

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