U.S. Air Force F-22 stealth fighter jets were part of the opening wave of American-led airstrikes in Syria against the Islamic State, according to a news report.
Julian Barnes of The Wall Street Journal included that dramatic bit of information in his story about the rapidly evolving military mission against the al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist group:
“Using Navy Tomahawk cruise missiles and Air Force fighter planes, including stealthy F-22s, the U.S. carried out plans for strikes against more than a dozen targets inside portions of Syria controlled by Islamic State militants, officials said.”
The stealthy, highly maneuverable plane was likely used to penetrate and attack the country’s sophisticated Russian-made air defenses, among other targets.
“Syria is not Libya,” Mark Gunzinger, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a research organization in Washington, D.C., said last year in an interview with Military.com. “Their air defense systems are more formidable. Using F-22s to help suppress those threats and support penetrating capability may be a good idea.”
The Defense Department spent about $67 billion acquiring a fleet of almost 200 F-22 fighter jets, which have only just recently begun flying combat missions.
Last year, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh sketched out a dramatic tale of a lone F-22 Raptor chasing off Iranian fighter jets over the Arabian Gulf. The confrontation was the first publicized engagement involving the Air Force’s most modern fighter and military forces of Iran.
“When the combatant commander wants air power there is only one number to call,” Welsh said, praising Lt. Col. Kevin “Showtime” Sutterfield. “Showtime is an Air Force Reservist,” the chief added. “He flies the F-22. He flies it really well.”
Welsh was referring to an incident in March 2013 in which an Iranian F-4 flew within 16 miles of an MQ-1 Predator drone flying off the coast of Iran before a previously undisclosed aircraft escorted the Predator to safety. That aircraft was an F-22, the Air Force’s fifth generation fighter.
But the plane’s mission in Syria on Monday is a far more significant illustration of its intended use in a combat role and, indeed, mark the first airstrikes in which it has participated.
In its air-to-ground configuration, the fighter can carry pairs of GPS-guided 1,000-pound GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, as well as active guided AIM-120s Amraam and AIM-9s Sidewinder missiles. It was slated to be enhanced with upgraded radar and as many as eight small diameter bombs.
The Islamic State has taken over large parts of Iraq and Syria, seizing on the political instability in both countries. Some 200,000 people have died in the more than three-year-old uprising against the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Since August, the U.S. is estimated to have spent more than $1 billion launching thousands of airstrikes, surveillance and other missions in Iraq to thwart advances made by the terrorist group, which had overtaken Mosul and threatened to reach Baghdad.