U.S. F-22 Raptor stealth jets provide kinetic situational awareness over Syria

Aug 15 2015 - 36 Comments

Although they were not conceived to play this kind of role, F-22 Raptors have emerged as some of the U.S.-led Coalition’s most reliable combat assets in supporting coalition planes during air strikes in Syria and Iraq.

At the beginning of July, U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor jets had flown only 204 sorties out of 44,000 launched by the U.S.-lead coalition against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Little more than a month ago, the multirole stealth combat planes deployed to Al Dhafra airbase in the UAE had dropped 270 bombs on targets located in 60 of the 7,900 locations hit by the other aircraft supporting Operation Inherent Resolve.

Even though the largest number of air strikes is carried out by other assets, it looks like the role played by the (once troubled) F-22 is pivotal to ensure the safety of the other aircraft involved in the air campaign: the Raptors act as “electronic warfare enabled sensor-rich multi-role aircraft” escorting strike packages into and out of the target area while gathering details about the enemy systems and spreading intelligence to other “networked” assets supporting the mission to improve the overall situational awareness.

“We are operating regularly in Iraq and Syria. The F-22’s advanced sensors and low-observable characteristics enable us to operate much closer to non-coalition surface-to-air missiles and fighter aircraft with little risk of detection,” said Lt. Col. J. (name withheld for security reasons) in a recent 380th Air Expeditionary Wing release. “We provide increased situational awareness for other coalition aircraft while simultaneously delivering precision air-to-ground weapons. This allows us to reduce the risk to our forces while mitigating the risk to civilian casualties, one of our highest priorities in this conflict. It is a true multirole aircraft.”

In simple words, the F-22 pilot leverage advanced onboard sensors, as the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, to collect valuable details about the enemy Order of Battle, then they share the “picture” with attack planes, command and control assets, as well as Airborne Early Warning aircraft, while escorting other manned or unmanned aircraft towards the targets. As happened when they facilitated the retaliatory air strikes conducted by the Royal Jordanian Air Force F-16s after the burning alive of the pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh captured on Dec. 24, 2014.

Needless to say, every now and then they can also attack their own targets using Precision Guided Munitions: two 1,000-lb GBU-32 JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) or 8 GBU-39 small diameter bombs, “which have been successfully employed against key ISIL targets. [The SDB] is extremely accurate from very long distances and has the lowest collateral damage potential of any weapon in our inventory.”

Therefore, although this may not be what the F-22 was conceived for, the U.S.’s premier air superiority fighter is excelling in a new role: making other aircraft more survivable in contested airspaces like Syria and Iraq.

 Top image credit: U.S. Air Force


  • germanlion

    Glad that the Air Force is taking advantage of how the Raptor is built and using it effectively.

  • globemaster

    Interesting story, but I
    would like to know why the E-3 or E-8 isn’t able to do this mission.

    • Andrew

      I’m unsure whether or not the E-3’s or E-8’s sensors are like the F-22’s or if the F-22 can provide a clearer picture, but what makes the Raptors useful in this context is they can share their data with friendly planes while escorting or bombing. They can operate closer to contested airspace while typically, E-3s and E-8s are flown way behind friendly lines in comparison.

      • Fonck

        One of the main point of this article is the data sharing. As far as I Know, the F22 does not get a L16 and can only share its data with others F22. Not with the F15, F16 or F18. For the E3 and 8 I am not sûre

  • Scott Cadora

    The Pentagon needs to shift some of the F-35 budget to buy more F-22’s. It’s a combat proven platform with flight performance that far exceeds the F-35. I do not understand the Pentagon’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge the problems of the F-35 and the clear superiority of the Raptor over the Lightning II. The Raptor also stands a far better chance against the Russian T-50 and Chinese J-20 than does the F-35. It’s like the USAF forgot all the lessons of the 1960’s when dogfighting was declared passé. And we all saw how that turned out in the skies over North Vietnam.

    • FrankW

      I agree that we should buy more F-22’s. However, we have a President who cares more about spending taxpayer funds on failed social welfare programs than national security. He just does not care-

    • Felipe Rios

      I fully agree with you. The only issue of buying more Raptors is the crazy high operating costs. 40,000$ per hour isn’t cheap so adding more to the fleet would be pretty expensive.

    • Jan Schmidt

      this “make/buy more f-22” was the main reason of airpoweraustralia. it failed though… it is all about share holder value and “get rich fast”. pork barrel politics. everything from starting useless wars to sending in poor and/or patriotic cannon fodder into slaughterhouses without endgame strategy. money and the worst inbred sins of wealthy men.

  • Uniform223

    Cool Beans.

  • marco

    Contested air space? Enemy SYSTEMS? Risk of detection? What are they/you talking about? The air space is contested by some AA guns, they can score a hit if you fly low no matter how stealth you are… but flying above 2-3 thoudands meters puts any plane simply out of range let it be an An-2 or a F-22. Plus some captured old 60ies Strela-2 easily decoyed for the past 30 years at least and with the same ceiling issues as the AA guns… The most complex electronic C3 system IS can field is a commercially available smartphone let it be an iPhone or Samsung. The most complex war tool are a bunch of crippled T-55, first fielded in the Fifties. The most complex detection device IS can field are eyes and ears. Seriously what are they/you talking about?

    • cencio4

      Syrian air defense batteries are still active, especially in the North of the country.

      Twice in the last few days Turkish F-16s flying CAPs along the Syrian border were lighted for some seconds by Syrian Air Defence SAM systems….

      • rats123

        But not shot down.

        Given the Syrians are fighting the same enemy they would be stupid to attack any aircraft bombing ISIS.

      • Marco

        Sure… in the dreams of someone the Syrian loyalists are activing like enemies… Given that Turkey-Syria or Israel-Syria topic is a very different matter: I can see how badly Syrian loyalists are trying to down a coalition plane for the past 12 months: moving their SAMs aggressively and pushing their MiG-23MLs and MiG-29s in their intended AA role to chase those coalition airplanes away… sure…

        Let’s be honest here: simply enough the F-22 is not a required asset in that scenario.

        • USofA

          I love how a civilian, quite naive one to boot, thinks he knows whats best over our General’s and Admirals in a war zone.

          Keep your emotional rants to a minimum. Bad enough with all the 50 centers running around, no need to throw in a uneducated fool to the mix.

          • Marco

            Sure, you are so knowledgeble. Always trust what people say and never question. Don’t think that after spending 62 billions of USD, the opinion of the ones who made the spending is just 62 billions time questionable with a huge bias on it.

    • rats123

      LOL! Completely agree.

    • USofA

      WHAT ARE YOOOOU TALKING ABOUT? Clearly you do not know half of what you are talking about. As stated by others, and confirmed by US airforce, most SAM systems in Syria’s north are active. Not to mention, the half billion in weapon caches they have taken. All of which were USA military systems, rockets, etc.

    • Victorinox
  • Nick

    A somewhat weak attempt to make the F-22 look relevant and make it appear as though the US taxpayer is getting their money’s worth out of this aircraft.

    • RedStatePatriot

      That is a silly statement, its like saying we never used ICBM’s therefore we should not have any.

      • Nick

        No. The point of a strategic nuclear deterrant is to have it and convince everybody else you are prepared to use it. If you ever have to actually use it then it has failed in its purpose.

        Here we have an extremely expensive gold plated fighter which is increasingly looking like a white elephant, ten years into its service career and it’s still a very costly solution in search of thus far non-existant problem. So the USAF has to try and come up with some kind of PR that makes it look like the F-22 was actually a prudent development, like it’s relevant and that they were right to spend all that money on it. Hence we get some cock and bull story like this where the F-22 is now suddenly an indespensible ISTAR platform for use against an enemy with no air force or air defences. The Syrian government is already embroiled in a multi-faction civil war and the US is bombing the Syrian government’s enemies. The notion that the Syrians would fire upon US aircraft that are actually helping them, and at the same time risk a massive military retaliation from the US is laughable.

        This article is somewhat equivalent to telling us how the Ferrari Enzo is the ideal car to drive to the supermarket and bring your groceries home in.

    • Marco

      yeah… exactly

  • lawrence

    personally i think this is really rather weak for the F-22…

    “[the f-22 can] operate much closer to non-coalition surface-to-air missiles and fighter aircraft with little risk of detection”

    i thought the entire thing with the ISIS conflict is that they have none of this kind of hardware… the syrians are flying mig23’s for the most part with the odd antiquated mig29….

    • Ikhwane –

      The Syrians still have a relatively sophisticated air defense system in place. Not much in the way of aircraft but they do still have have reasonable surface to air missile capability.

  • Jan Schmidt

    f-22 will not solve a problem that has been brewing and falsely managed by western foreign/colonial politics. see wahabitism in saudi arabia and arab imperialism.

  • Jiesheng Li

    F-35 only four hard points in internal bays. F-22 6 x hard points for AMRAAMs. Could be expanded . Says it all.

  • In other words, the F-22s are doing what the 3X-more expensive F-35 is supposed to be able to do best, while not being able to do anything else better than the F-22 or the F-15/16/18—sorta proof the military-industrial complex has boon-dangled the treasury with a new airplane that isn’t really needed.

  • Nick

    Ten years into its service career not one scenario has occurred that required a fighter with F-22’s unique capabilities. That’s a fact. That’s why we need really transparent attempts to make it look like it’s now an invaluable asset in a bombing campaign against an enemy with no air force or air defences worth mentioning.

    The F-22 was a victim of history – it was conceived to fight a war that never happened. It should have been killed off in the 90’s like the A-12 and RAH-66 (among others like SSN-21) and the technology developed used to create a more mundane fighter that could be procured in practical and useful numbers. Instead the US spent just shy of $67bn to get 187 aircraft. I’ll let you do the math…

    Finally, if you think the Russians and Chinese have the ability to realistically challenge US air power, even without the F-22 in the equation, then I’m afraid it’s you that lives in the alternate reality.

    • Pooter Bilbo

      “Ten years into its service career not one scenario has occurred that
      required a fighter with F-22’s unique capabilities. That’s a fact.”

      That you know of… Loads of the F-22’s capabilities are still classified as are the nature of many of its missions. Just because military aviation junkies on comment boards don’t know about it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. And I know you don’t want to admit it, but there’s a bunch of other useful things the F-22 can do that the legacy fighters can’t, and they don’t involve blasting around with thrust vectoring in a WVR dogfight.

      “The F-22 was a victim of history – it was conceived to fight a war that never happened.”

      So the F-22 is irrelevant because it was conceived during the cold war? Well I guess it’s a really good thing that Russia has behaved perfectly ever since the cold war ended, and none of their cold war era technologies have proliferated at all…

    • Uniform223

      “Ten years into its service career not one scenario has occurred that required a fighter with F-22’s unique capabilities.”

      Lets hope that it never has too…

      “The F-22 was a victim of history – it was conceived to fight a war that never happened.”

      No the F-22 is a victim of politics, not history. If you’re blasting the F-22 because it was conceived for a war that never happened (thank goodness) then you might as well talk smack about every major weapon system the US military has now. Majority of our platforms were designed and created for the war that never happened.

      “It should have been killed off in the 90’s like the A-12 and RAH-66 (among others like SSN-21) and the technology developed used to create a more mundane fighter that could be procured in practical and useful numbers”

      See item above…

      Though the A-12 and Commanche never were pressed into service their technologies can be seen in other projects and platforms. I would put good money into saying the design and technology for the RAH-66 was put into the famous and still very mysterious “stealth black hawk”. The Seawolf is still a submarine that no one can truly rival. Still the technologies and designs from the Seawolf were lifted into the Virginia class submarine. There were many high end programs that got dropped after the fall of the Soviet Union because politicians believed there wasn’t a need for it.

      “Instead the US spent just shy of $67bn to get 187 aircraft. I’ll let you do the math…”

      See items above again.

      Even though the F-22 had a small procurement number (again political decision), technologies and design of the F-22 was ported into the F-35. The F-135 engine core is essentially the F-119. Stealth… obviously. The F-35’s DAS is a more enhanced version of the Raptor’s own passive systems. The F-35’s AESA radar is a more enhanced version of the Raptor’s AN/APG-77.

      “Finally, if you think the Russians and Chinese have the ability to realistically challenge US air power, even without the F-22 in the equation, then I’m afraid it’s you that lives in the alternate reality.”

      Yet every US fighter pilot well tell that possible adversaries have reached parity with our older aircraft. Even if we keep those older 4th gen aircraft around and upgrade them, parity will drop and other advanced aircraft will gain superiority.

  • Nick

    And what exactly were the F-22s deterring? Do you think Iran is going to risk starting a war with the US over some piddling little drones flying over the Persian Gulf?

  • Uniform223

    “Actually the USAF & Lockheed Martin stored the production equipment (jigs & such) in Nevada so that the F22 assembly line could be restarted relatively quickly.

    And what’s a few billion to restart the line when compared to the trillions being wasted on the F35?

    And Raptors could be made rather quickly if it were deemed a national priority.”

    Not really.

    Even though the machinery is kept in storage for a “just in case” type of thinking, to state that re-opening and reproducing the Raptor would be quick and cheap is a gross fabrication and wishful thinking.
    The Raptor program had subcontractors from 42 states. DoD would have to reopen a bid for sub contractors which will of course take time and money. Then there is reopening the F-22 line again. The factory it self is empty, the machining equipment and specialized tools are in storage somewhere else. So Lockheed and DoD would have to ship all that specialized equipment either back to Georgia or find a new location. Funding for additional Raptors in the current DoD budget environment is next to impossible, DoD will have to find a major program to either drastically cut or terminate all together for appropriate funds. The cost of any additional Raptors would essentially be reset back to the original price of when the 1st LRIP lot of Raptors were produced. At the peak of production 2 Raptors were built every month, the current F-35 production rate exceeds that.

    Also the often quoted “trillion” spent is the estimated price of the F-35 throughout its time in production and development.

    I would like to see more Raptors being built but the reality is that wont happen unless there is a massive injection into the DoD budget or alternatives stated above (F-35 program most likely NOT to be cut for additional funding).

  • Uniform223

    “Did you see the recent report that pilots in the F35 were having difficulty turning their heads because a) the helmets were too big and the canopy was too small? Kind of hard to look behind you if you can’t turn around”

    AN/AAQ-37 more commonly known as DAS (Distributed Aperture System)


    “I disagree that the dogfighting argument is dead.”

    How would you define dogfighting? Is it when engagement starts at BVR or does it have to be in WVR?

    “BVR and Off-Foresight are certainly useful technologies”

    Yes they are. You’d want to look up when was the last air to air kill made by guns. Also you’d want to look up air-to-air engagements since 1990 and see what percentage of those engagement were made by missiles. Even though Israeli fighter pilots are renowned for their WVR prowess, look at their developments and upgrades to their Viper and Eagle fleet. Also if the F-35 is such an under performer in WVR arena, why would Israel AF be buying them? Wouldn’t they be happier with more Vipers and Eagles?

    “but they are subject to the ROE, which often requires visual verification by the pilot”

    Now you’re trying to define a hypothetical ROE in a hypothetical situation. With improving radars, sensors, and technology; target identification and classification isn’t just regulated to the Mk.1 eye ball optical systems as the end all be all.

    “And BVR missiles are never 100% guaranteed to hit their target”

    No one will argue that but again, look at the Gulf War and see how many missiles were used to bring down enemy aircraft compared to guns used on enemy aircraft.

    “What happens if your AIM-9’s are out, aren’t working or malfunctioning? A 20MM makes for a nice contingency plan,”

    Not saying that one is clearly superior over the other but current doctrine is that the gun is either used as secondary or when the engagement is too close for even short ranged AAMs.

    “but that necessitates good, old fashioned ACM.”

    The US pilots still train for BFM and ACM. The basics stay the same but the methodology changes.

  • Nick

    The tools and jigs were stored and the production process was recorded.

    However, the floorspace has now been turned over to other projects, I believe to the F-35. The staff have moved on as well. To re-start F-22 production would be far from cheap and quick and would disrupt other procurement.

  • itsmefool

    Yeah, it’s common knowledge that the assembly equipment was stored, but the chances it’ll be put back together for a “national priority” are about as high as you and become F-22 pilots! No, stick a fork in the new Raptor theory…it’s done.

  • Cody3/75

    By all means, google F-35 and look at the images. I dunno where that argument came from but it’s pretty obvious they have more than enough room in both helmets.