Nine Langley Raptors have returned to the Air Forces Central Command Area of Responsibility. Three more coming in the next days. Here are all the details.
On Jun. 27, 2019, the first nine of 12 F-22 Raptors belonging to the 192nd Fighter Wing of the Virginia Air National Guard, from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, deployed to the AFCENT AOR (Area Of Responsibility). Supported by at least four KC-10 (GOLD 51, 52, 61, 62) and 1 KC-135 (using callsign GOLD 54), the aircraft took off from Moron AB and flew across the Mediterranean Sea to land, according to our sources, at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar (even though their usual deployment base is Al Dhafra in UAE).
These Raptors were spotted by local photographers as they arrived to Moron Air Base between Jun. 25 and 26: 09-4174/FF, 08-4167/FF, 04-4082/FF, 10-4192/FF, 08-4163/FF, 08-4157/FF, 04-4067/FF, 09-4173/FF, 08-4165/FF, 09-4189/FF, 05-4100/TY, 05-4089/TY.
The transit of the tankers supporting the Raptors flights through the Med Sea could be tracked online by means of the usual OSINT tools (ADS-B/Mode-S transponders, radio feeds etc.).
#GOLD flight KC-10A eastbound over Med.#GOLD51 84-0189#GOLD52 79-1949#GOLD61 79-1950#GOLD62 83-0076#potn #avgeeks pic.twitter.com/mGJFu178hS
— planes on the net (@planesonthenet) June 27, 2019
Three F-22s are still in Moron having gone technical (one didn’t take off at all and the other two returned back once airborne as “TABOR 16” and “TABOR 25”).
Although the technical issues suffered by the three Raptors left behind are not clear, the fact that these did not join the rest of the F-22s deploying to the ME reminds us about the MC (Mission Capable) numbers for the Raptor fleet, quite far from the 80 percent goal by the 2019 Fiscal Year. MC numbers for the F-22 fleet have been notoriously low, typically hovering around 50 percent according to Joseph Trevithick at The War Zone, with the rate of FMC (Full Mission Capable) aircraft (i.e. the percentage of the fleet that is, on average, capable of meeting all mission requirements), probably substantially lower than this.
The last time F-22s deployed to their usual forward operating base at Al Dhadra, UAE, via Moron AB, was in April 2018. They were not replaced by another F-22 squadron at the end of that TDY in October 2018: F-15Cs belonging to the 493rd FS from RAF Lakenheath, UK, took their place few months later.
More recently, in April 2019, a squadron of F-35A from Hill AFB, Utah, started operating in the CENTCOM AOR.
Rotations to the Persian Gulf usually last 6 months: considered that “The United States Air Force deployed F-15Cs to the [Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility] in early 2019,” as reported by Military.com, it seems quite likely that the deployment of the Raptors was “just” a scheduled deployment to relieve the RAF Lankenheath’s F-15C Eagle jets.
Whatever the reason for the tour of duty in the Middle East, the 9x F-22 aircraft that deployed on Jun. 27, will soon start flying in the Persian Gulf region where tension between US and Iran has been particularly high recently.
Last month, U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan ordered the repositioning a carrier strike group and redeploying strategic bombers as part of a BTF (Bomber Task Force) in response to “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” related to Iran. Since then, the situation has escalated: two oil tankers were damaged by explosions in the Gulf of Oman; Iran attempted to shoot down of a U.S. drone that was surveilling the attack on one of two tankers; rockets were fired at Camp Taji, where US soldiers are based in Iraq; a U.S. Navy RQ-4 BAMS-D drone was downed by Iran.
As a consequence of the downing of the RQ-4 drone, President Trump approved military strikes against Iran but pulled back from launching them.
“Officials said the president had initially approved attacks on a handful of Iranian targets, like on radar and missile batteries. The operation was underway in its early stages when it was called off, a senior administration official said. Planes were in the air and ships were in position, but no missiles had been fired when word came to stand down, the official said,” NYT reported.
While it’s still not confirmed that the deployment of the Raptor was just a pre-planned rotation to the region (rather than part of a build up of forces around Iran), according to rumors, more tactical assets are being moved to the Gulf area in the following days.
AFCENT has not responded yet to our emails asking for comments, confirmation and additional details. We will update the post once we get an official statement on the deployment.
Update Jun. 28, 16.07GMT
In an email to The Aviationist, AFCENT spokesperson Maj. Holly C. Brauer, has confirmed the F-22s have deployed to Qatar “to defend American forces and interests in the region.”