U.S. F-22 EW-enabled sensor-rich stealth aircraft have escorted Jordanian F-16s during air strikes on ISIS

U.S. F-22s and F-16CJs are being tasked with Jordanian F-16 escort missions in Syria.

Last week the Pentagon provided some details about the American support to the Jordanian air strikes in Syria that followed the burning alive of the pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh captured on Dec. 24 after he ejected from a Royal Jordanian Air Force F-16.

RJAF pilot

Image credit: Jordan Armed Forces

According to Air Force Times, U.S. Central Command CAOC (Combined Air Operations Center) tasked the F-22 Raptors and the F-16CJs, along with an unspecified unmanned aircraft that provided intelligence gathering and surveillance, to escort the Jordanian aircraft launched against Islamic State positions.


Moreover, the American stealth jets are now embedded in the “standard strike package,” which includes U.S. and coalition aircraft, committed to attack ISIS militants in Syria and Iraq, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said.

The news put the spotlight on the Raptor again and is a sign the U.S. stealth jets are still directly involved in the anti-IS campaign in Syria and Iraq: little was known about their contribution to Operation Inherent Resolve besides the details which were released following their participation to the opening stages of the war  and focusing on those first missions.

What’s more interesting is to try to guess the role played by the Raptors in the air strikes and the value of their escort, considered that even though the F-22 is the best air superiority fighter in the world, it will hardly find any aerial opponent to shoot down.

Whereas SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) and EW (Electronic Warfare) platforms, like the F-16CJ/CGs, the EA-6B Prowlers and the EA-18G Growlers, are likely taking care of the residual air defenses surrounding the most dangerous targets, the F-22 Raptors are probably used to provide the so-called “forward target identification”: the Raptor stealth fighters can use their ability to enter, mostly undetected a target aerea, gather details about the enemy systems with their extremely advanced onboard sensors (including an Active Electronically Scanned Array – AESA radar), share the picture and enemy information with other tactical assets, command and control planes and AWACS, then escort other unstealthy planes or drones towards the targets.

Actually, they can also attack their own targets with JDAMs if needed: F-22s can carry two 1,000-lb GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munitions or 8 GBU-39 small diameter bombs, 250-lb multipurpose, insensitive, penetrating, blast-fragmentation warhead for stationary targets, along with AIM-120s AMRAAMs (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles) radar-guided missiles and AIM-9 Sidewinder IR-guided missiles, a configuration that makes the Raptor

However, in modern scenarios as well as in Syria and Iraq, the 5th generation aircraft is more an “electronic warfare enabled sensor-rich aircraft”, than a pure interceptor with swing role capabilities.



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. Interesting indeed… I thought IR based sensors would be more useful, to be honest. What signals would the F-22 detect?

    • They’re there in case Syria suddenly decides to not permit flights in their airspace (eg; if a NATO aircraft accidentally strikes Syrian government forces, they might get upset).

      In such a case, the F-22’s will be identifying Syrian SAM and radar. If any Syrian SAMs get captured by Daesh / rebel forces and someone is smart enough to use them, then the Raptors would also be targeting them.

  2. The F-22A by itself is not very good at communicating with non-F-22As assets. So there is either another comms “bridge” aircraft airborne, or most of the ISR is relayed by voice. It is also not the only AESA equipped aircraft in the US package – Block II Super Hornets and Growlers also have AESA radars, and more widely compatible networking technology. It’s likely that the F-22As are flying forward of the main strike group, waiting for pop-up acquisition radars to emit, and either dropping on them or passing their location back to the Growler or F-16CJs to task.

    • I don’t think there is any “target acquisition radar” or “residual air defense” to attack… actually I do not think there was an air defense to attack since the beginning.
      They are not striking Syrian Army, they are striking IS… and obviously Syrian defenses do not engage.

    • Many USAF/NATO aircraft, including the frontline fighters, communicate through Link 16, with the F-22 being one of the few exceptions (it can receive but not transmit), the main reason being that Link 16 is encrypted but not LPI (stealthy signal), and therefore could give away the F-22’s position. You probably know this, but I thought I’d elaborate. It does have an LPI intra-flight data link (IFDL) that it uses to network only with other F-22s, and whether it is being used or not, equipment already exists to “bridge” the F-22’s IFDL to Link 16. I have no idea what they’re doing in this regard over Syria right now, but for what it’s worth, F-22s were said to be useful in this capacity during Red Flag exercises, even with no networking or bridging with other aircraft (voice only), just because they could gather signal intelligence and identify threats from a forward position, as well as faster and with greater accuracy than other aircraft (including the E-3).

      Perhaps given the nature of the enemy in this case, the F-22 is not strictly necessary, although I think that including it is prudent as a contingency against the unexpected, as a source of confidence for other pilots (I’d feel better with something that can “see” like this and not be “seen” providing protection–like a guardian angel ;) ), and as a way to gain combat experience and build confidence in the F-22 itself–since they have it, they should use it, even against ISIS/ISIL. And of course it can drop bombs, too. Let people scoff if they will–they’re just ignorant anyway.

  3. My understanding is the F-22’s systems can geolocate signals as part of a SIGINT role. Do IS not use radios or mobile phones? What about the Synthetic Aperture Mapping capabilities of the AESA? I also think the F-22 has other capabilities that we don’t know about yet and maybe never will that the USAF does not want to talk about and that they maybe using.

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