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. 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.

  2. -“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.

    • 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

      • 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…

      • I suggest that they host a re-match;
        in the next fight, allow the F-22s to engage beyond visual range, using supercruise and AIM-120D missiles.

  3. 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.

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

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

  5. 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…

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