All you need to know about U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor’s baptism of fire over Syria

In the night of Sept. 23, the U.S. and partner nations have launched a series of air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria. And, for the first time ever, the F-22 Raptor has had its baptism of fire.

U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor jets were involved in the opening wave of the air campaign the U.S. and some partner nations launched in Syria against ISIS.

Even though the extent of their involvement was not disclosed, considered the scenario it is quite likely the Raptor stealth multi-role jets flew Swing Role missions: by exploiting their radar-evading capability, the F-22s probably flew high and fast to provide cover to the rest of the strike package during the ingress into the enemy airspace (in what is considered a typical OCA – Offensive Counter Air mission), then dropped their Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs) on designated targets, and escorted the package again during the egress and subsequent return to base.

Tasked for air-to-ground configuration, the F-22 can carry two 1,000-lb GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, along with AIM-120s AMRAAMs (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles) radar-guided missiles and AIM-9 Sidewinder IR-guided missiles.

With software increment 3.1 or higher, the F-22 can also drop 8 GBU-39 small diameter bombs, 250-lb multipurpose, insensitive, penetrating, blast-fragmentation warhead for stationary targets, equipped with deployable wings for extended standoff range. These bombs are particularly useful to improve accuracy and reduce collateral damage.

The aircraft involved in the raids that marked the baptism of fire of the Raptor fleet were probably the six F-22 Block 35 jets with the 1st Fighter Wing from Joint Base Langley–Eustis, Virginia, that, as we reported, deployed to Al Dhafra, in the UAE, in April 2014.

Indeed, the aircraft with the typical “FF” tail code were spotted in the images released by the DoD which showed some F-22s during mid-air refueling over the Persian Gulf in May. What we don’t know yet, is whether the initial detachment of six planes was joined by more planes due to the crisis.

Interestingly, in an interview given at the end of 2013, General Hawk Carlisle said 5th generation aircraft would provide forward target identification for strike missiles launched from a surface warship or submerged submarine, in the future. The PACAF commander described the ability of the F-22s, described as “electronic warfare enabled sensor-rich aircraft,” to provide forward targeting through their sensors for submarine based T-LAMS (cruise missiles). Although it’s quite unlikely that the U.S. Air Force has already implemented this capability, it’s not completely impossible that the aircraft were involved in a similar mission on Sept. 23, designating targets for T-LAMs launched by USS Arleigh Burke and USS Philippine Sea.


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. MCALS and MALD are the ‘first wave’ with Jammers at the edge of the threat envelope doing posthole type popup and return to cover missions to tease the threat emitters into operatons by supporting 10ft long, 300lb, 500nm ranging (smaller than an AMRAAM, more downrange than a Phoenix) ADM-160B decoys which then likely go into a swarm or circling shark mode, MALD-J, electronic attacks, looking to jam communications or penetrate primary sensor sidelobes around the guard channel lockouts.


    A suitable C-130 can probably carry 30 or more MALD/MALD-J and kick them off the rear ramp like a pez dispenser so that followon tactical aircraft can be bomb rich and SEAD limited.


    What you basically want to do is create an isolation cell of a few minutes, localized disruption of commo and sensor wavelengths in the target terminal area where the U.S. jets, because they are using unboosted weapons (like the French AASM) have to popup from route ingress altitudes to do the deed from medium height before vanishing back into the weeds.


    In this it is very important to understand that **NO SAM SYSTEM IS ANYTHING BUT A POINT DEFENSE WEAPON** (Not the S-300, 300PMU-1 or PMU-2 nor the 400/500), dependent upon their ability to target low altitude threats which simply put themselves below a given horizon threshold.


    Stealth aircraft are similar, given you understand that they have only ONE highest threshold VLO sector (nose on) from which to penetrate and thus there will be a gradual and rampup of standoff noise jamming along a subtlely predictable ingress corridor as the jammers push the SNrs high enough that the threat signal processors pass the gain threshold which eliminates the target residual return (skilled manual operation by Soviet ‘advisors’ will still be able to see the shift and predict the threat lanes).


    But the point is that the jets are truly only in trouble right at the target terminus and so this ‘bubble’ represents a time domain critical opportunity to ‘do what they do’ without too much worry from on-site or surrounding systems nailing them to a wall as they pull their predictable laze’n’blaze orbit wheels to deliver precision attacks.


    In truth, this is very inflexible, dangerous, doctrine because it fails to acknowledge the reality of a distributed IAMDS which erects multiple bubbles at once. Ideally, you will have an EOB map, gathered by weeks of overhead, UAS and ground team tracking of specific batteries but as Yugoslavia showed, for a tradeoff in total coverage capabilities, the Air Defense units can remain on the road for sufficient periods of time that they beat the preplanned or even Tomahawk-in-holding-orbit clutchshot to form a non-cohesive air defense whose very nature of effectiveness is never knowing where everyone is, all the time.


    The best way to handle TCT fleeting targets is to have persistent, VLO, attack drones whose nature is one of jet speeds to get into and out of high threat zones considerably faster than a 110 knot Predator, bowtie signature levels inherent to tailless flying wings (wingtip on RCS is almost as VLO as nose on) and WEAPONS ONBOARD to deal with transient threats that arrive and depart on their own schedule, as they see fit and with a constant chary eye on the sky.


    Targeting then becomes a function of operators on the ground with specific grapevine awareness of a stunt about to be pulled, in combination with traffic pattern analysis that builds databases of houses and vehicles where threats are likely to operate from and either pushes sector strike teams to grab POIs for interrogation and intel to break down the organizational power tree. Or themselves wait for the moment when Muktar’s Rend Toyota Hilux shows up at residence X to close the kill chain.


    There is no value inherent to making grand stand maneuvers when you cannot sustain presence over enemy terrain for more than a few minutes at a time. You can hit identified targets (which then dries up your intel) but you cannot _work the picture_ to build a mosaic of who’s who, doing what where.


    This is where the notion of ‘being brave by authorizing big, bold, airstrikes’ instead of itty bitty Tomahawk or Predator equivalents is going to come back and bite us in the buttocks for want of a coherent plan, not just to score a few easy hits as immediate pain (causing the ISIS/ISIL to scatter like cockroaches, coming back together once the new, upwardly mobile, job openings are made obvious in the survivors’ aftermath of a corporate shuffle).


    But to create massive an ongoing attack doctrines which eat away at the threat on a systemic basis. Takign away total cells of operational familiarity and with them, control over given regions.


    Why we would want to fight Syria’s war for Assad, I do not know. But if you are in it to win it, it has to be far more persistent and pernicious than this glory hounding. This is just a little bug bombing that drives the pests to the next apartment over. You want traps and bait and a followon strategy which causes the bugs to crawl back into their holes where you can map out their movements before you kill them off.

    If it’s not worth investing in that kind of capability then doing this is, at best, a short term solution and at worst a recruitment tool.

  2. At the same time, Syrian UN ambassador has been warned hours before of all the attacks, why? one of the request was to Syrian govt to keep their launchers in cold!

  3. Of course, we now have the so called experts on this site that naturally believes everything stated on YouTube, since we all know how reliable it is and that the Russians would never think of putting out propaganda to get people to buy their products.
    What people do not realize is it is not how great the radar is, it does not matter if it is the most powerful radar in the world, it is computing power that is needed, and even the US would be hard pressed to find a F22 with a super computer hooked up to a radar, let alone what the Russians have out there.
    When a F22 is returning back a radar image the size of a insect that means a computer has to in real time be able to work through all the clutter of every bird, every insect in the area and separate them from each other, something by the way that is not possible with any military grade computer.
    So how did they get a return on the F117 you ask, that is because the F117 worked on a different principle, it did not make the aircraft smaller in the returns, it redirected the signal. So all they had to do was hook up radar in networks, something every Air Force can do today (notice the F117 is now retired, there is a very good reason for that), but the F22 works more on the B2 bomber effect, that is not to redirect, although there is some of that, but it is to make the return image smaller by capturing the radar, redirecting a small amount and the rest is stored in the planes RAM paint.
    Amazing what a little research over the years can find, yet you still have people posting YouTube, the same site that says that their mother is a alien and the world is still flat. Unbelievable.

    • The F-22’s stealth shaping sure seems to work on the same principle as the F-117–it’s just a more sophisticated form of it. In any case, radars have to distinguish its tiny return against background noise, much of which is literally cosmic in origin. So for one thing they cannot simply look for birds/insects flying at fighter speeds, as some detractors glibly assume. The bottom line is that having an RCS that is small enough to easily hide in the natural background noise is a significant advantage, and this works even better when enemy radars are being jammed.

      As for the downed F-117, it flew too close to a SAM site, and any stealth aircraft can be detected and even shot down when that happens–“too close” is simply a lot closer than with conventional aircraft. The SAM crew also did a great job in spotting the F-117 visually (or gathering reports from others) and positioning their equipment ideally; the other essential factor was that the F-117 flew the exact same route multiple times, which was stupid, lazy mission planning, and allowed the intercept to happen. The F-22’s stealth is a bit better, but the main difference is vastly improved situational awareness that will help it avoid such incidents (or attack the SAM site), and in addition, if fired upon the F-22 could potentially defend itself with countermeasures and far superior kinematics and agility. The F-117 was a “one-trick pony” that relied entirely on not being detected, and also more on luck even in that respect–that’s why it originally only flew at night (and should have kept doing that), as spotters could potentially vector fighters (or SAM sites) toward it, and the defenseless F-117 would be dead. Try to do that against the F-22, and the enemy would most likely get killed instead because it can really fight. This is why the F-117 was retired the same month that the F-22 officially entered service–although it is an impressive and novel example of a whole new capability that many probably didn’t believe was practical, with its veil of secrecy stripped away, it wasn’t complete enough of an aircraft to remain survivable, while the F-22 is and the F-35 will be.

  4. The USAF F22 is going to be undetectable in the Southern Hemisphere skies also – they are going to have two F22 raptors sitting on the ground as a STATIC display again at 2015 Avalon Air-show – because they don’t have a pilot that can fly them in Australia. What happened to them being a world air super power if they can’t fly the planes.What kind of logistical planning is that?

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