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

An F-22 Raptor pilot from the 325th Fighter Squadron, Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., maneuvers his aircraft into position to refuel off the tail of a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 344th Air Refueling Squadron, McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., during a Red Flag 15-3 training sortie over the Nevada Test and Training Range, July 24, 2015. The aircraft pictured was training on the side of Blue Force in the scenario, working against air, space, and cyber threats presented by members of the 57th Adversary Tactics Group.

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


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

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

    • 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.

      • 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

  3. 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.

    • 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-

    • 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.

    • 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.

  4. 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?

    • 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….

      • But not shot down.

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

      • 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.

        • 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.

          • 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.

    • 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.

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