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

Sep 23 2014 - 27 Comments

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.


  • Roland Lawrence

    Did it fly with the Boeing EA-18G Growler? I heard that the F22 would not go into combat without such cover. Is this true?

    • Dafidge9898

      I doubt we would conduct any strikes without the Growler. Especially because Syria has SAMs.

    • cencio4

      There are Prowlers aboard USS Bush operating over Syria.

  • InklingBooks

    Yes, ISIS, with no jet fighters and only primitive air-to-ground defenses is just the sort of foe the F-22 and F-35 need. But unfortunately, the Soviets and Chinese have had decades to develop radar systems that see through stealth, mostly by operating in the VHF/UHF range. That’s a different story. Consider this short video:

    The Chain Home systems that the Brits used in 1942 operated at about 26 Mhz and, as he notes, could seen in every stealth aircraft in existence. You’ll also see a host of other videos on the same topic.

    Heck, when I was working with anti-SAM ECM at Eglin AFB in the late 1960s, GE set up an emulation of a Soviet VHF search radar that apparently could easily spot all our stealth aircraft. The only hitch is working out a way to use the less precise return from a search radar to put higher-frequency and more precise-pointing missile systems on to a target.

    I wonder if Russia or China are letting their top-of-the-line systems leave their borders. If I were them I wouldn’t. I’d wait and spring a surprise on us when we least like it.

    • Grach25

      Do you think they were testing Syrian air defenses? Not ISIS? If we knew what you stated in the late sixties, Imagine the “top-of-the-line” systems we have now. I doubt Lockheed did not account for the newer generation of radar systems developed by the Russians and indigenously copied by the Chinese. I think it is smart to test relatively new technology in a low intensity environment.

    • Michael Rich

      You do realize Syria does not want us in their territory, so they are probably using them against the Syrian Air Force if they try anything.

      • Tom Jones

        That is a sound comment, Michael.

    • Vape Escape

      Ever think of verifying what was said in that video before accepting it as fact?

    • Heyitswheeler

      What countries say to the world and what they are truly capable are two very very different things. Countries especially Russia, have been using bullshit stories about their advanced weaponry to scare the enemy and boost troop morale for many many years. Until it’s seen first handed, then i don’t believe a single thing they say. Just because you read it on the internet doesn’t make it true

      • tmhager

        I Agree! Propaganda!

    • phuzz

      That’s what the electronic warfare is for. Longer wavelengths might be better at detecting stealthy aircraft, but that comes with an inherent uncertainty in the position of the aircraft. this also makes it easier to spoof by an ECM aircraft operating a long way away.

    • Roland Lawrence

      Indeed, but I would assume that special ops have been in Syria for ages now and removed any *serious* threats. The political outcry if one of the F22s was shot down would be huge. What they need here is a clear hit to validate itself and the F35 programmes.

    • OG_Locc

      Every time you want to believe the fairy tale that the Chinese and Russians have developed radar that can see an F-22, you can come back to reality by simply asking yourself why the Russians and Chinese are scrambling a fast as they can to build their own “stealth” aircraft.

      You’re welcome.

  • JimmyD

    “With software increment 3.1 or higher…”

    Alas, version 2.9 was the highest anybody had, since somebody forgot the MSDN password and the password reset tool proved effectively worthless.

    “Praise be to Ballmer” insurgents were overheard chanting, as the F-22s flew home, landing just before all avionics popped up a modal dialog that could not be closed, reading “An Error Has Occurred.”

  • JimmyD

    “With software increment 3.1 or higher…”

    Alas, version 2.9 was the highest anybody had, since somebody forgot the MSDN password and the password reset tool proved effectively worthless.

    “Praise be to Ballmer” insurgents were overheard chanting, as the F-22s flew home, landing just before all avionics popped up a modal dialog that could not be closed, reading “An Error Has Occurred.”

  • jack_k1

    The video, if you use “pause”, also provides an excellent example of “roof knocking”. The first two hits were followed seconds later by two more hits that went straight down into the building through the holes made by the first two hits.

  • JS353535

    Whether or not the air defenses can see them coming makes no difference, the concept of “stealth” is dead. It’s alllllllllllll about avionics, pilot training and input from locally acquired recon. All of these things are priority #1 in Syria, and believe me–the US has the information it needs to conduct strikes. When an F-22 is flying CAP at 65k feet and providing data to every other aircraft in the area, the idea of “stealth” is completely irrelevant. We’re not fighting Russia–we’re fighting cockroaches hiding under rocks. C’mon people…

    • billy smith

      What air force says stealth
      is dead?what air force has stealth beside USA in front line ?

  • beReal

    A Tiger Moth could have probably done the same job (designator or munitions delivery), with a lot more (deserved) fanfare. Exactly what are the defenses over Syria?

  • Marv Geffen

    Oh boy. Another war conveniently just in time to deploy the most recent war gadgets. We had already racked up a $4.5 TRILLION war bill in 2011. Imagine what it is now 3 years later. And imagine all that that money could have bought instead. This country is so messed up it’s tragic.

  • Ricardo

    the Syrians were informed of the attacks so I wonder what kind of weapons were delivered to IS before they become foes

  • Ricardo

    where there other weapons provided to the IS before they became foes?

  • M&S

    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.

  • Pepe Le Cox

    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!

  • tbenton62

    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.

    • rbrtck

      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.

  • David

    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?