According to an Air Force official, the F-22 Raptor was used during the Monday airstrikes over Syria. The military aircraft made its debut during the nighttime mission against the Islamic State as part of the U.S.-led coalition.
The Military Times reported that this was the F-22’s first combat operation. It operated as part of a joint force of U.S. and Arabian Gulf region allies.
“A mix of U.S. aircraft and aircraft from within the U.S. Central Command area of operations conducted the strikes,” the Air Force official said in a statement. “We will not specify the exact numbers of U.S. aircraft or the specific munitions they employed. However, the U.S. aircraft participating in the operation included remotely piloted aircraft, F-15E, F-16, F/A-18 and F-22 fighters and B-1 bombers.”
“Additionally, the 47 [Tomahawk missiles] employed by the U.S. in the strikes were launched from USS Arleigh Burke and USS Philippine Sea operating in international waters from the Red Sea and North Arabian Gulf,” the official stated. “We are still assessing the outcome of the attack, but have initial indications that the strikes were successful in destroying their intended targets.”
Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville, Director of Operations for the Joint Chiefs, stated that the F-22 was used to attack an IS command facility on the ground in Raqqah. Mayville said the Raptor will most likely get another chance to fly in combat as the recent airstrikes are only the beginning of an ongoing campaign against the militant groups.
According to USA Today, few details of the Air Force operations against IS have been shared. This may be in part that primary operations of the mission occur from ally bases who could receive backlash for cooperating with forces that strike against Muslims.
Quite the opposite, the U.S. Navy has released several videos of their jets in action. Operating from the sovereign territory of aircraft carriers, it does not feel the same pressures as Air Force operations. It has shared footage of Tomahawk strikes and jet attacks over Iraq.
The question lingers on why the U.S. decided to use the F-22 for its first combat mission at this time. Many theories have arisen including that jets were conveniently housed nearby, the Raptors had the advanced capabilities needed to complete the mission, or even that the aircraft had something to accomplish ahead of the main fleet.
The Military Times reported that the answer may not be complicated at all. The Pentagon may have debuted the F-22 because it was just simply the right time. Being strategically placed around the world, it may have been the most logical choice.
It has been deemed vitally important that the Air Force learn more about the F-22 and its combat capabilities. Eventually, the replacement for the Raptor will need to be developed and production started.
“We’re at that point that we need to be thinking about replacement for capabilities we have today, because 15-20 years from now the F-22 will be 30 years old,” said Col. Tom Coglitore, Team Chief at Air Combat Command. “These platforms are sometimes pulling 8 or 9 Gs a couple times a day. We stress the heck out of them.”