U.S. F-22 stealth fighter pilot taunted Iranian F-4 Phantom combat planes over the Persian Gulf

Earlier this year, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little, said that an IRIAF (Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force) F-4 Phantom combat plane attempted to intercept a U.S. MQ-1 drone flying in international airspace off Iran.

As we reported back then, one of the two F-4 Phantom jets came to about 16 miles from the UAV but broke off pursuit after they were broadcast a warning message by two American planes escorting the Predator.

The episode happened in March 2013, few months after a two Sukhoi Su-25 attack planes operated by the Pasdaran (informal name of the IRGC – the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution) attempted to shoot down an American MQ-1 flying a routine surveillance flight in international airspace some 16 miles off Iran, the interception of the unmanned aircraft failed. After this attempted interception the Pentagon decided to escort the drones involved in ISR (intelligence surveillance reconnaissance)  missions with fighter jets (either F-18 Hornets with the CVW 9 embarked on the USS John C. Stennis whose Carrier Strike Group is currently in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility or F-22 Raptors like those deployed to Al Dhafra in the UAE.

New details about the episode were recently disclosed by Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh who on Sept. 17 not only confirmed that the fighter jets providing HVAAE (High Value Air Asset Escort) were F-22 stealth fighters but also said that:

“He [the Raptor pilot] flew under their aircraft [the F-4s] to check out their weapons load without them knowing that he was there, and then pulled up on their left wing and then called them and said ‘you really ought to go home'”

If the episode went exactly as Welsh described it, it was something more similar to Maverick’s close encouter with Russian Mig-28s in Top Gun movie than a standard interception.

It would be interesting to know how the Raptor managed to remain stealth (did they use their radar? were they vectored by an AWACS? etc.) and why it was not the E-2 most probably providing Airborne Early Warning in the area to broadcast the message to persuade the F-4 to pursuit the drone before the Iranian Phantoms and the U.S. Raptors got too close in a potentially dangerous and tense situation?

Anyway the U.S. pilot achieved to scare the Iranian pilots off and save the drone. A happy ending worthy of an action movie.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

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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. I am confused as to the need of a drone? if you needed human escort….unless the drone is the bait.

    • probably the drone is equipped with surveillance equipment not available for the F22 or F18 and tasking an actual spy plane is too expensive.

      so they use the drone as a surveillance platform and escort it.

      they also probably buzz off when the drone accidentally dips into Iran airspace ;)

      • The probably keep carefully skirting the Iranian border nice, steady and well visible in radar while the drone veers off course across to the other side…

          • They are if Lunuberg lenses are installed. When F-22 ventures out to an air show those lenses, designed to increase RCS, are always attached to hide the true RCS. Also VERY visible to Iranian Nebo-SVU radars. Waves are too long for F-22 to effectively defeat.

            • “Also VERY visible to Iranian Nebo-SVU radars”

              LMAO. And the Qaher 313 is a 5th gen air superiority fighter.

                • And do you have any concrete proof that its used for development of nuclear weapons? Hysterical crying of nuclear-armed Israel and bullshit-laden CNN/FOX/BBC don’t count. Neither does relating to US/British intelligence by politicians since we all know what happened in 2003 with Iraq

                  • We know they have enriched uranium well beyond reactor-grade levels (~15-20%, depending on whatever ideosyncracies exist in their reactor designs) although they’re likely still far short of the purity required for a uranium-based nuclear device (around 90%). The real risk though, is the plutonium. Although most of the world’s nuclear plants use the familiar reactors we’ve all seen in movies, the prevalence of these designs is largely due to their production of significant amounts of Plutonium-239 in their waste. There are two main types of nuclear reactors – light water reactors, which are the most common and produce much less proliferation risk due to lower production of plutonium. Heavy water reactors, on the other hand, produce significant amounts of plutonium as well as significant amounts of tritium, a hydrogen isotope required for the production of the vastly more destructive “fusion” or thermonuclear bomb. Heavy water reactors also don’t require any enrichment of the uranium and the heavy water itself, given Iran’s economic state, would be very uneconomical on it’s own as a means of power generation (it can cost upwards of $300 for just one pound of the material). Iran is known to be building both types – the science behind the known capabilities of their reactors and the known points to an additional weaponization motive along with power generation or medical isotope production. We also know that Iran has tested powerful explosives in implosive form-factors, which are exclusively used in nuclear weapons (the “Fat Man” bomb used on Nagasaki was an early example of this method). Follow the science – not the politicians.

                    • The Iranians have hundreds of kilograms of uranium enriched to 20% Uranium 235. U 235 makes up only .7% of natural uranium, so the Iranians have already enriched it 30 fold. It only needs to ne enriched 4.5 times more to attain 90% (weapons grade) enrichment. With an estimated 18,000 centrifuges,that would take Iran about a month to achieve, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. There is little art to weaponeering a uranium bomb.There is absolutely no use other than weapons which warrants enrichment beyond 20%. Plutonium production occurs naturally with the operation of heavy water reactors. As long as fuel rods are removed frequently for reprocessing to separate the plutonium, it is available. (If the campaign goes longer than a few months, plutonium 240 and 241 isotopes are also created in sufficient quantities to make the plutonium difficult to use because of the shorter half-lives of those isotopes would cause prdetonation of a plutonium weapon). It takes much less plutonium to make a bomb than it takes uranium, by about a factor of 10.

              • Do you have any idea what NEBO-SVU radar is and how it works? Any idea what wave length it has and what kind of antenna array it uses? Any idea what its frequency is? Also any idea how F-22s stealth technology works? If not then keep quiet.

                Whether that radar was located anywhere near the area where the incident has transpired is an open question since its a 100% mobile radar which can pack up and leave within 10 minutes.

                I never claimed anything about Q-313

                • I have as much proof that NEBO-SVU radar has no chance of tracking an F-22, as you have proof that NEBO-SVU radar *can* track an F-22.


                  • I HAVE proof that NEBO-SVU and NEBO-M can track F-22. Its called science. F-22 isn’t large enough to effectively scatter the wave of that length which is of 2 meters long or ~7ft. B-2 may controllably deflect those waves due to its size. F-22 is too small and so is every other fighter and Raleigh scattering is prevalent which is what the NEBO-SVU and NEBO-M use to see it. The powerful AESA design with powerful processing allows to track it and even guide missile to within 500 meters close which is close enough for missiles own seeker to see it ragardless of stealth. Its just too close at this range.

                • The F-22 is only stealth till it banks which is why some 4++ generation fighters can effectively shoot them down in an encounter, but usually the united states never runs across any 4+ generation fighters mainly outdated mig 21 23 f4 f5

                  • Its highly unlikely that they could be shot down due to the effective range of acquiring an enemy target. 20 miles if I’m not mistaken if they were to not engage within the enemy’s combat radius and banked the F22 could easily engage super cruise and dart out of the enemies combat radius before it could lock on.

                    • Lock can be established in less then 3 seconds if you have a modern ESA radar. Regardless of whether of Active or Passive design. Even at max speed dash F-22 won’t clear the no-escape-zone of some missiles. Rafale, Typhoon, Su-35 and MiG-35 use the latest in IRST which can track targets from a VERY long range using its heat signature. Su-35s OLS-35 claims 90km which translates to roughly 50 miles if it stares into its tail or ~50km (~30 miles) from another aspect where its engines are obscured. Now missile is fired and is coming at approx Mach 4.5. F-22 with its Mach-2.1 max dash speed (can’t fly faster due to non-variable engine intakes and thats at top altitude, less at lower alt) it won’t build the gap fast enough.

                    • What is special about the aforementioned NEBO radars that other AESA radars can’t do? The Air Force has already proven that the F-22 can regularly defeat AESA radars at all aspects.

                      Yes those IRSTs are great at seeing low-observable aircraft. They’ve served people flying against F-22s well in those ridiculous mock dogfights that people crow about like they mean something. Here’s the thing though. The F-22 was designed to stay hidden and pop people at BVR ranges. Long before they’re seen by IRST and LONG before aircraft like the Flanker-E gain a slight advantage by getting the F-22 into a close range knife-fight. Also remember, seeing the the F-22 with IRST at 50 miles isn’t very helpful when the F-22 fired an AMRAAM at twice that range. The latest AMRAAM (AIM-120D(C-8) has been confirmed of being capable of at least a 100 mile range. Rumors are saying as much as 150…

                      That missile alone is going to make the F-22 ten times more lethal than it already was. We know that super-maneuverable Gen 4+ and Gen 4++ aircraft are, at bare minimum, equal to the F-22 in a close range fight. With older versions of the AMRAAM, it was more of a game of chicken since Eastern and Western radar guided MRAAMs (medium ranger air-to-air missiles) had roughly similar characteristics. The F-22, it was assumed, would still probably get the first shot but any potential target would most likely be able to return fire. Now (option A), with this extra long range AMRAAM, the F-22 can lob a shot AND maintain radar coverage, with its own radar, for the duration of the missiles flight while still staying hidden AND outside an aggressors range. OR (option B), better yet, the AIM-120D is supposedly capable of flying in a passive mode where it doesn’t rely on its own radar. It fly’s to a point in space where, if the target hasn’t aggressively changed vectors, it will be when the the missile’s radar goes active. Lowers the probability, but if neither the attacking aircraft nor missile has spiked the target then there is a good chance its not going to maneuver away. Lastly (option C), like its predecessor, the AIM-120D can rely on an AWACs to guide it in. So, while all three options keep the F-22 well out of enemy range, option B & C even enable the aircraft to trigger multiple missiles, at one or more targets, THEN turn tail at super cruise and await the results. If they miss the F-22 can do it again. It can also serve as the “mothership” while a missile-truck (Super Hornets with 12+ AIM-120Ds) does the actual firing. The F-22 stays hidden while simultaneously giving other aircraft firing solutions, all while suing passive systems and not giving away its position with an active radar.

                      No, the F-22 is vicious. King-Kong doesn’t have sh&t on the F-22. There isn’t an airplane flying that will hang with the F-22. People need to do their homework, and quit reading the idiocy posted about the F-22 isn’t as capable as advertised and it was a waste of money. Yeah it was expensive, crazy expensive. But that money is spent now so its a moot point. In return we have just shy of 200 aircraft that are capable of, single handed, taking on the world’s air forces and kicking the piss out of them.

                    • As posted above. NEBO-M and NEBO-SVU and VHF radars and have too long a wave length for F-22s shape do be of any use. Stealth is 95% shaping and 5% materials. At those lengths F-22 is seen as any other non-stealthy aircraft.

                      AMRAAM is not a particularly effective missile just so you know. Its achieved effectiveness in benign ECM-less environment with targets barely airworthy (including a helicopter and a trainer aircraft) and no ECM is 56%. And most of shots were taken at WVR using AMRAAM. Not very impressive. Also R-27ET/EP/ER have 180km range which is more then 100 miles. BTW that range you mention is under what conditions? Against what kind of target? Fired from which aspect? From what altitude? From what relative attitude? At what velocity?

                      AMRAAM flies passive and doesn’t activate its seeker until close to target. That is how it works. Terminal homing is active radar. And there are PLENTY of jammers available to send it sideways. Just like any other radar-guided missile.

                      Su-35S Flanker-E+ also happens to have L-band AESAs which work as radars AND jammers as well as passive receivers for L-band emissions. That murders all the data-links you mentioned. If F-22 tries to link up with other fighters it starts to emit. At the moment neither F-22 nor F-35 can link to any other gen-4 fighters. And if can they have to switch to non-PLI mode to do so. Again bye-bye stealth.

                      F-22 acts like a mother ship. So? What makes you say those hornets aren’t gonna get killed themselves?

                      Read my other post on F-22s radar. LPI doesn’t guarantee that the radar won’t be intercepted. It merely reduced the probability.

                      You have less then 130 mission-ready F-22s at any time. Its called maintenance.
                      Also while you might be able to supposedly “kick the piss” out of some air forces, there is something called highly mobile IADS with those radars I mentioned. And F-22 won’t survive those if those involve SA10/12/20 covered by SA-21

                    • umm I can tell you YOU have no idea the true speed of the 22 btw. that info is not public knowledge, and if you claim to know it on here then you are actually openly spilling top secret information, so which is it smart guy?

                    • I studied aeronautical maintenance. Any person with basic grasp of aerodynamics would know that given that since F-22s air intakes aren’t of variable design (where there is a body in front of the intake like a cone or a wedge or blade) which creates a mach shockwave when planes goes supersonic. And the faster supersonic the more pointy the mach cone is. And when supersonic and/or turbulent air enters the intake it can and does lead to compressor stall. Thus although F-22s airframe may survive Mach-2.5 for short duration, its limited to speed below Mach-2.1. Just like F-16. Want to see what high-speed aircrafts engine intakes look like? Check out SR-71 and MiG-25/31. The angle at which the intake is “cut” is sharp on MiGs while SR-71s have a big cone that is far ahead of intake itself for the very reason I described. F-22 couldn’t be that sharp or have round intakes with a cone for stealths sake so as to not increase the amount of directions in which impinging radar waves bounce to.Z

                      Top Secret information? LOOOL!!! Good luck classifying the laws of physics, aerodynamics and mathematics. As far as the fact that its classified by Pentagon goes – I couldn’t care less. I don’t live in USA and actually want F-22 to have same thing happen to it as to F-117 over Serbia, including pilot surviving to tell the tale.

                    • Then add to it the fact that F-22s S-bend intakes are REALLY bad for airflow (creating a rather inefficient uneven airflow to the compressor) and the very inefficient flat nozzles (which wreck havoc with exhaust flow pattern) you end up with a very choked engine all for the sake of stealth. F-119 is a monster of an engine on its own. A YF-120 was even more so. Would be great to see what thrust it’d achieve with a round nozzle and a straight intake duct. I’ll bet those much more then F-22 ends up with

                      To add some more to my post above.

                      The body that moves in front of the intake in the variable design makes sure that the mach shock wave doesn’t actually completely cover the intake from edge to edge. There has to be a gap between edge of the intake and the wave. The air behind the mach cone is actually subsonic

                    • In actual air-to-air combat the current king is the F15 with a kill score of 133-0. In simulations the F22 can defeat 4 F15s simultaneously. There is simply no comparable aircraft currently flying in the same league.

                    • Depends on the simulation though. If defeat means F-22 having radar lock and stating that it “fired” a missile then its not really a defeat. I means it got a shot off. In reality there’d be ECM and aggressive maneuvering by F-15 to avoid that missile.

                  • BTW, there is no MiG28; even numbers have been delegated for civilian AC.

              • If you feel like seeking a specific ant on a grass field through a straw then be my guest :P

        • The UAVs don’t have to get very close to see all they want to see. There’s no need to cross out of international airspace, since a LOT of Iran’s pathetic weapons are sitting on the coast. They can’t picture Tehran from that distance, but I’m betting that wasn’t the point of this sortie.

      • That’s exactly right, Echo. Some drones have minimal defensive capability, and some even have minimal offensive capability, but they are really renowned for their ability to see in much greater detail than serves the purpose of a fighter. They are escorted in order to provide that unbeatable level of defense (and offense, if it comes to that).

        • drones don’t need either. They can pull 30 g’s. They can get away without having to worry about being shot down.

      • The drone its cheaper to buy and operate, and and is quieter than a fighter jet and can stay in the air longer

        • When did the military concern itself with cheaper to operate? They spend 600 billion a year. And how does having two F22 raptors following it through most of its mission save costs?

          • Every heard of this thing called “budget cuts”? They’re trying to axe the A-10 entirely because of lack of funds for the F-35A

          • It has always mattered, as there is always a budget to contend with. This is a situation, where various options are available and cost can be considered.

    • As they are stealth aircraft, the Raptors are probably flying a CAP that is within intercept range of several drones, and simply react when one is threatened.

      • the post says the jets were specifically escorting that drone and not simply patrolling.

        that said your idea makes much more sense :)

  2. @mzungu Wouldn’t the drone have different capabilities than a f-22? Not saying better, necessarily, just different.

    • Hi Mick! The drone has a vast array of some very serious and expensive sensors, but no way of protecting itself yet, as far as we know, plus it is a bit slow! Therefore, it may require an escort from time to time to make sure that we do not lose this very important and high dollar asset. It does things that the F-22 is not capable of; different mission parameters, etc. I spent 21 years in the Air Force, but have now been retired for three years, so there is no telling what our capabilities are now, let alone what a guy would be able to say about them in a public forum.

      • That is exactly what I suspected, Master Sergeant. I’m an Australian, but thank you for your service – you are not only protecting America!

      • They are not drones. They are Remotely Piloted Aircraft. There is a person at the controls, thousands of miles away. They’re not terribly maneuverable but they do have some self-protection capability. 25 years USAF (Ret)

    • Believe it. The F-22 regularly goes 1 vs. many (up to 16 or 20) against the F/A-18 Super Hornet in simulated combat and they are all dead before they ever see the Raptor. It’s THAT good.

      • That really depends on the situation of the dogfight as well as the relative equipment that was on the Super Hornets at that time. Not to discount the Raptor, but these “simulated” combat should be taken with some caution. A lot of the “win factor” involves pilot skill, and we have seen from F-15 vs Su-30MKI exercises that even a slight discrepancy between the respective crew could mean a lot.

        • What you wrote makes no sense. The best F/A-18s with the best pilots, four flights of them, don’t even know the Raptor is there. How do you fight a ghost, no matter how good you are? simulated does not need to be in quote marks because it is extremely close to real combat. The telemetry calculates what the missile or gun would have done with frightening accuracy.

          • The “best” pilots also differ from one another in terms of their tactics as well as level of experience; after all, they are humans. It’s erroneous to assume that the only depend factor in these simulations are the capabilities of the aircraft. That aside, there is also the factor of support aircraft, because assets like AWACS can make a huge difference in aerial combat.

            During Red Flag exercises, the IAF Su-30MKI was known to “defeat” the F-15 while the Rafale was known to lock onto the F-22. There are so many factors that comes with such maneuvers that the merits of the aircraft themselves are no longer the only, or even dominant, factor.

            • Read a lot of books do you? Let me guess: You’ve never strapped a fighter to your kiester but you’ve seen Top Gun, like a hundred times. I defer to your expertise then. All I’ve ever done is spend some 3000 hours in tactical aircraft, both US and foreign technology. What do I know….

      • You are being ridiculous. 1 vs 16-20? F-22 doesn’t have that many missiles. As a former pilot you of all people should know.

      • Funny indeed! But a very expensive joke :-)
        The USAF knows what he does, of course. But for anything, they showed to the radar engineers from Iran (and China / Russia maybe) the exact position of an F-22 and how it appears on the sensors. Doing this a couple of times does not bring a lot of information, but if it is frequent, can provide a lot of data to improve the radar system software.

        • Expensive indeed.. “two American planes escorting the Predator”. As if the Predator was not expensive by it self, but no, let’s send two of our newest and insanely expensive fighters to escort some drone and risk our pilots lives … What a waste of time, money, man hours and possibly waste of high value assets. Good point on giving out F-22 radar signature as well. A lot of tax payer’s money down the drain, and they just label it HVAAE (High Value Air Asset Escort) and go on with it.

          Stories like this serve only to drive traffic and clicks to low quality websites like this one. They have no value or any kind of purpose, whatsoever.

          • Good training exercise. I think the missed an opportunity to splash two Iranian jets. They should have let them lock on the drone and then splashed them.

            • Sure… because we could all use another war in the Middle East. Scaring them away just isn’t good enough.

              The F-22’s mission was to protect the Intelligence platform. He did that… and had a little psychological fun too. Win Win.

              • We need to destroy Iran before they get nuclear weapons but that is beyond the ability of Tyrant Obama the Lying Betrayer.

                • oh oh oh :)
                  american folks some times see Hollywood films.
                  only some times .!?
                  you are very happy ?!
                  american F4 vs American F22 :)

        • They would need a LOT more than one fleeting glimpse in order to determine anything from the data, and even THEN it wouldn’t matter. In an air-to-air situation–ANY situation really–the Raptor will prevail. Iran’s observational data is useless not to mention no Iranian pilot is going to willingly tangle with a Raptor.

    • I guess we ought to fly old, antiquated, crap planes too, huh, “Paulo”. That way it would be “fair”.

      • There is nothing “fair” in war, you use its best efforts to destroy his enemy; the USAF does his best, I´m OK with this. But there seems to be a mismatch between investment in F-22 and the threats it faces effectively. An F15 or a Hornet would have fulfilled this mission with the same efficiency.
        Of course, I’m just talking about this situation and investment in defense aren´t based on situations like this, or in jokes of retired generals :-)

        • The Raptor exists for a reason and this was a perfect example of one of those reasons: it’s an extremely effective deterrent. Wouldn’t you rather win the “war” without ever having to fire a missile? Iran realizes how quickly they would lose pilots against the US, they might be crazy but they’re not dumb.

        • The use of stealth was a message to Iran. “In your space without a trace.” I’m sure the Iranian pilots are still having nightmares over this.

    • Because Iran puffs its chest up and pretends that anyone believes they can possibly be a threat to the United States (or even Israel) in conventional warfare. This proves that that is a joke – at best.

    • And protecting a $4 million unmanned drone…..

      I’m sure the F-22’s radar was off for the intercept, it’s no longer needed in the era of digital datalinks; the pilots had the same picture AWACS did.

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