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 4450 Articles
David Cenciotti is a freelance 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 four books.

7 Comments

  1. 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.

    • “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…

    • “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.

  2. 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?

  3. “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).

  4. “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)

    http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/f-35-programme-receives-first-rockwell-collins-gen-3-415699/

    “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.

  5. 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.

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