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

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    • 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.

  5. 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…..

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