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. 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.

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

      • 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.

  2. 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….

    • 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.

  3. 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.

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

  5. 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.

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