U.S. F-22 Raptor Allegedly Interfered With Russian Su-25s Over Syria And “Chased Away” By Su-35S, Russian MoD Claims

A close encounter between an F-22, two Su-25s and one Su-35S occurred over Syria some weeks ago. Many things about the incident are yet to be explained though. CENTCOM: “There is no truth to this allegation.”

Several Russian media outlets are reporting an incident that involved a U.S. F-22 and some Russian aircraft over Syria, to the west of the Euphrates on Nov. 23, 2017. Some details of the close encounter were unveiled by the Russian MoD’s spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov, who described the episode “as yet another example of US aircraft attempts to prevent Russian forces from carrying out strikes against Islamic State,” according to RT.

According to the Russian account, a Russian Su-35S was scrambled after a U.S. F-22 interfered with two Su-25s that were bombing an Islamic State target. Here’s Sputnik news version:

An American F-22 fighter actively prevented the Russian pair of Su-25 attack aircraft from carrying out a combat mission to destroy the Daesh stronghold in the suburbs of the city of Mayadin in the airspace over the western bank of the Euphrates River on November 23. The F-22 aircraft fired off heat flares and released brake shields with permanent maneuvering, imitating an air battle.”

At the same time, he [Major-General Igor Konashenkov, the Russian Defense Ministry’s spokesperson] noted that “after the appearance of a Russian multifunctional super maneuverable Su-35S fighter, the American fighter stopped dangerous maneuvers and hurried to move into Iraqi airspace.”

Many things are yet to be explained making the story really hard to believe:

  • it’s not clear why the F-22 was flying alone (most probably another Raptor was nearby);
  • why did the stealth jet release flares and perform hard maneuvering (lacking a direct radio contact, was the American pilot trying to catch the Russian pilots attention using unconventional signalling)?
  • was the F-22 mission a “show of force”?
  • what are the RoE (Rules Of Engagement) in place over Syria?
  • were there other coalition aircraft nearby? Where? Did they take part in the action?
  • how was a Su-35 scrambled from Hmeymim airbase able to chase away the F-22? Did the Flanker reach the area in time to persuade the Raptor to leave?

Update Dec. 10, 06:53 GMT: we have just received an email from CENTCOM CJTF OIR PAO with their version of the alleged incident that denies and debunks the Russian MoD claims:

There is no truth to this allegation. According to our flight logs for Nov 23, 2017, this alleged incident did not take place, nor has there been any instance where a Coalition aircraft crossed the river without first deconflicting with the Russians via the deconfliction phone line set up for this purpose. Of note, on Nov 23, 2017, there were approximately nine instances where Russian fighter aircraft crossed to the east side of the Euphrates River into Coalition airspace without first using the deconfliction phone. This random and unprofessional activity placed Coalition and Russian aircrew at risk, as well as jeopardizing Coalition ability to support partner ground forces in the area.

Any claims that the Coalition would protect Daesh, or hinder, a strike against Daesh are completely false. We strike them hard wherever they are found. What we can tell you is that we actively deconflict the airspace in Syria with the Russians to ensure the enduring defeat of Daesh in the region. We will continue to work with our SDF partners, just as we will continue to deconflict with the Russians for future Coalition strikes against Daesh targets in Syria.

Anyway, the (alleged) episode reminds the incident that occurred on Jun. 18, 2017, when an F/A-18E Super Hornet belonging to the VFA-87 “Golden Warriors” and piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Michael “Mob” Tremel,” shot down a Syrian Arab Air Force Su-22 Fitter near the town of Resafa (40 km to the southwest of Raqqa, Syria), after the pro-Assad Syrian Air Force ground attack aircraft had bombed Coalition-friendly SDF positions. In the official statement released from the Coalition about the incident the Combined Joint Task Force stated, “The Coalition’s mission is to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The Coalition does not seek to fight the Syrian regime, Russian, or pro-regime forces partnered with them, but will not hesitate to defend Coalition partner forces from any threat.”



If confirmed, the one on Nov. 23 would be the first “official” close encounter between F-22 and the Su-35 over Syria.

The Su-35 is a 4++ generation aircraft characterized by supermaneuverability. Although it’s not stealth, it is equipped with a Irbis-E PESA (Passive Electronically-Scanned Array) and a long-range IRST – Infrared Search and Tracking – system capable, (according to Russian sources…) to detect stealth planes like the F-35 at a distance of over 90 kilometers.

The Su-35S was deployed at Hmeymim airbase, near Latakia in Syria at the beginning of 2016, to provide cover to the Russian warplanes conducting raids in Syria in the aftermath of the downing of a Su-24 Fencer by a Turkish Air Force F-16. During the Syrian air war the aircraft carried Vympel R-77 medium range, active radar homing air-to-air missile system (a weapon that can be considered the Russian counterpart of the American AIM-120 AMRAAM) along with R-27T (AA-10 Alamo-B), IR-guided air-to-air missiles.

Shortly after being deployed to Syria the Su-35S started shadowing US-led coalition aircraft: a German Air Force spokesperson explained that the Russian Flankers were among the aircraft used by the Russian Air Force to shadow the GAF Tornado jets carrying out reconnaissance missions against ISIS; a VFA-131 video that included footage from the cruise aboard USS Eisenhower in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, in Syria and Iraq showed a close encounter with what looked like a Su-35S Flanker-E filmed by the Hornet’s AN/ASQ-228 Advanced Targeting Forward-Looking Infrared (ATFLIR) pod.

Aviation analysts have long debated the tactical value of the Russian Su-35S supermaneuverability displayed at airshows in the real world air combat environment. Are such low speed maneuvers worthless to fight against the U.S. 5th Gen. stealth aircraft, such as the F-22, that would engage the Su-35S from BVR (Beyond Visual Range) exploiting their radar-evading capabilities?

It depends on several factors.

The F-22 is a supermaneuverable stealth aircraft. Raptor’s stealthiness is maintained by storing weapons in internal bays capable to accommodate 2x AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, some AIM-120C AMRAAM air-to-air missiles (the number depending on the configuration), as well as 2x 1,000 pound GBU-32 JDAM or 8x GBU-39 small diameter bombs: in this way the Raptor can dominate the airspace above the battlefield while performing its mission, be it air superiority, OCA (Offensive Counter Air), or the so-called kinetic situational awareness “provider”. Moreover its two powerful Pratt & Whitney F-119-PW-100 engines give the fifth fighter the ability to accelerate past the speed of sound without using the afterburners (the so-called supercruise) and TV (Thrust Vectoring), that can be extremely useful, in certain conditions, to put the Raptor in the proper position to score a kill.



All these capabilities have made the F-22 almost invincible (at least on paper and mock engagements). Indeed, a single Raptor during one of its first training sorties was able to kill eight F-15s in a mock air-to-air engagement, well before they could see it.

In its first Red Flag participation, in February 2007, the Raptor was able to establish air dominance rapidly and with no losses. As reported by Dave Allport and Jon Lake in a story which appeared on Air Force Monthly magazine, during an Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI) in 2008, the F-22s scored 221 simulated kills without a single loss!

Still, when outnumbered and threatened by F-15s, F-16s and F-18s, in a simulated WVR (Within Visual Range) dogfight with particularly limiting ROE, the F-22 is not invincible. For instance, during the 2012 Red Flag-Alaska, the German Eurofighters not only held their own, but reportedly achieved several kills on the Raptors.

Even though we don’t know anything about the ROE set for those training sorties and, at the same time, the outcome of those mock air-to-air combat is still much debated (as there are different accounts of those simulated battles), the “F-22 vs 4th Gen aircraft” is always a much debated topic.

In fact, although these 4th Gen. aircraft are not stealth, they are equipped with IRST (Infra-Red Search and Track).

Indeed, F-22s and other stealth planes have extremely little radar cross-section (RCS) but they do have an IR signature. This means that they can be vulnerable to non-stealthy planes that, using their IRST sensors, hi-speed computers and interferometry, can geo-locate enemy LO (low observability) aircraft.

Indeed, there are certain scenarios and ROE where IRST and other tactics could greatly reduce the advantage provided by radar invisibility and this is one of the reasons why USAF has fielded IRST pods to Aggressors F-16s in the latest Red Flags as proved by shots of the Nellis’s Vipers carrying the Lockheed Martin’s AN/AAS-42. According to some pilots who have fought against the F-22 in mock air combat, the IRST can be extremely useful to detect “large and hot stealth targets like the F-22″ during mock aerial engagements at distances up to 50 km.

That said, the F-22s remains the world’s most advanced air superiority aircraft and would be able to keep an edge on an Su-35S at BVR (Beyond Visual Range): even though AAMs (Air-to-Air Missiles) are still somehow unreliable and jamming is sometimes extremely effective, the U.S. stealth jets (as well as the F-15s and F/A-18s operating over Syria) rely on a superior intelligence and tightly integrated one another. This means that the F-22s would be able to arrange the engagement based on a perfect knowledge of the battlefield; a true “information superiority” that is probably more important than the aircraft’s peculiar features. However, if forced to closer range (within range of the IRST) to comply with limiting ROE or for any other reason, the F-22 would find in the Russian Su-35S a fearsome opponent, and would have to rely mainly on the pilot’s experience and training to win in the aerial engagement against Moscow’s top supermaneuverable combat aircraft.

Top image: Anna Zvereva/USAF

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About David Cenciotti 4453 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.

26 Comments

  1. As a neutral observer I’d suggest that flying the Stealth platforms close to the Russian military is exactly what the Red team will be hoping for. They have always used proxy operations to quantify and profile US aircraft, looking for the Achilles heel. This became obvious during the Falklands conflict where Argentinian pilots had been fully briefed on the weak spots of the UK Navy and Air Force. The locations may change, the nationality of the people being killled as a result changes too, but the proxy conflicts are still ongoing.

    • Which is why, if there’s even a kernel of truth to this, the F-22 didn’t stick around to give Russia’s latest fighter, with their best radar, a chance to get a peek at it without RCS enhancement. This article is most likely designed to goad an F-22 pilot into doing just that.

      • It is easy to eliminate a F-22. You shoot down the KC 135, since the F22 has a long flight back to the UAE that requires multiple refuelings.

        • Won´t ever happen. The F-22 pilot would have ejected long before the Russian pilot even managed to fire his IRBIS-E target locked R-73 missiles.

          When it comes to play the game of chicken in any given airspace, with Russian hardcore pilots, no US redneck in a fancy, over-hyped F-22, or even F-35, has the nerves to even engage in a real battle. If they cannot escape with full afterburners, they will eject and blame the act on engine failure or something similar LOL

          Bullying third world countries with their purchased over priced old F-15, or, F-16 crates, that is ok, but challenging a real weather bitten Russian Ace and his wingman from the Russian Air Defense, telling you to basically piss off, or die, is a completely different affair. In that cold reality, war is not a movie and much less a video game.

          • Hardcore Russian pilots…..lol! You mean just like the “hardcore” SU 24 Russian pilots who were blown out of the sky by a Turkish F16 whilst arrogantly intruding into Turkish airspace. Give me a break. Funny how these “hardcore” Russian pilots do not dare to cross into Turkish airspace ever since…..with tails in between their legs.

            If there is even a kernel of truth to the Russian MOD story……the “hardcore” SU 35 pilot obviously did not spot the hidden F22 wingman covering his flight lead……waiting to shove an AMRAAM or AIM 9X up the SU 35’s tailpipe…..all the way to the Rondina.

            • What a brave act, attacking unarmed bomber, not designed for dogfight is all what they could dare to do. This is like you would send an unarmed A-10 or F-111 vs fully armed Su-30/35.

              Also interesting how the things changed since the S-300/400 were deployed to Syria, covering the whole Syrian-Turkish border. The Russian aircraft kept continue in flying near Turkish borders and none was intercepted again. Turks also fastly changed their attitude what reflected for example during the common Russian-Turkish operations against terrorists.

              http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38667895

              Judging by the claim how close the Su-35S was to that annoying F-22, no way the Su-35S pilot wouldn’t notice the possible second F-22 around or are you really so naive you believe the so called “invisibility” works in every distance, no matter how close you’re to the radar reflector? Use some common sense.

              Moreover, if there ever was a Su-35S, you can be sure there was not just one in the area. So if the F-22 wingman would try something stupid with its AIM-9X (that was fooled by old Su-22) or AMRAAM, the answer would looks like a R-73 or R-77-1 behind the F-22’s tail.

              • Fair enough……the SU 35s will probably fly as a pair minimum. But so will the F22s…..and have you heard of tactics (especially ACM tactics)…..have you heard of “high cover”? That is what the F22 wingman very likely will be doing…..flying quite high above his/her flight lead and the intercepting SU 35s. The intercepting SU 35s (especially if not cautious) may not spot the F22 wingman at all….who is waiting to pounce. BTW 5th generation capabilities allow fighter pilots to provide mutual support to each other without the need to be in visual range of each other all the time. Good luck to the SU 35s encountering a flight of networked F22s with BVR mutual support….they will never spot that flanking F22 wingman/wingmen…..

                • Fair enough? How was the unarmed Su-24 (aircraft that is not even designed for dogfight) supposed to defend itself against air superiority fighter like the F-16 is? You surely don’t know what are you talking about.

                  “have you heard of “high cover”? That is what the F22 wingman very likely will be doing…..”

                  Firstly, he certainly can’t fly too high above if he wants to intercept the Su-35 in the right time what just minimizes his chance to not be spotted and secondly, that wingman would be very lucky if the Su-35 pilot wouldn’t noticed him when you consider how clear the Syrian sky mostly is, like above every desert areas.

                  “BTW 5th generation capabilities allow fighter pilots to provide mutual support to each other without the need to be in visual range”

                  The F-22 uses the Link 16 for that purpose, like most of the Western 4th generation fighters, so this is not a matter of just 5th generation capabilities.

                  The Russian counterpart is known as the S-108 data link and is used by the Su-35S. This allows the aircraft that using it to be networked and exchange tactical data with air, sea and ground assets, means that other Su-35s operating in the area (and even the long-range SAMs like the S-300/400) would have sufficient situational awareness all the time.

      • “america = invader”

        Yeah until some country/entity is killing everyone around you, and things are generally going to sh_t.

        Then it’s : “AMERICA, COME SAVE ME!!”

        Phhhhhhtttttt!

        • mind your business

          syria is a sovereign country, a member of UN, with a government recognized by UN

          yankee go houm

            • Show us proof that there are regular Russian troops in the Ukraine (from the Pentagon or intelligence services).

        • Putin is already reducing the Russian troop strength in Syria. Didn’t you get the memo?

  2. We know from stories from F-15 pilots that without laser range finders NONE of there weapons would work, including the gun, even if they could see the F-22 with their own eyes.
    The only thing they could do was to speed away as fast as possible or to surrender the ordeal to ground control and give up.

    If you can spot an F-35/F-22 at 90 km on IR, it doesn’t mean you can shoot it down at 90 km.
    Chances are you are already to late and already under fire. You will know in a few seconds…

    • Bit of an old story but here it is…

      http://www.acc.af.mil/News/Features/Display/Article/204471/raptors-wield-unfair-advantage-at-red-flag/

      +When the Raptor finds itself in a dogfight, it is no longer beyond visual range, but the advantage of stealth isn’t diminished. It maintains “high ground” even at close range.

      “I can’t see the [expletive deleted] thing,” said RAAF Squadron Leader Stephen Chappell, exchange F-15 pilot in the 65th Aggressor Squadron. “It won’t let me put a weapons system on it, even when I can see it visually through the canopy. [Flying against the F-22] annoys the hell out of me.”

      Lt. Col. Larry Bruce, 65th AS commander, admits flying against the Raptor is a very frustrating experience. Reluctantly, he admitted “it’s humbling to fly against the F-22,” – humbling, not only because of its stealth, but also its unmatched maneuverability and power. +

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