U.S. military airframes are notoriously robust and in general are considered superior. Yet even among their ranks, one fighter jet stands out. Since its introduction to service, the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor has dominated the skies as the world’s first fifth-generation fighter.
The fighter showed its superiority in 2013, when a Raptor pilot flew undetected under a pair of Iranian-flown Phantom fighter jets. This incident ended with a famous one-liner by the pilot: “You really oughta go home.”
F-22 Can Do Amazing Things: The Story
It all started with a U.S.-flagged MQ-1 Predator drone. In 2012, a pair of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Su-25 Frogfoot fighters detected the American-made drone flying over international waters, roughly 16 miles off the coast of Iran. Predator UAVs are used mostly for reconnaissance and pose no threat to aircraft. Pegging the harmless unmanned aerial vehicle as an easy target, the Iranian fighters fired on the unaccompanied drone with their onboard guns. After firing nearly 250 pounds of munitions and failing to take out the drone, the two Su-25 pilots eventually retreated.
Following this incident, the U.S. military altered its MQ-1 strategy. Instead of sending the UAVs through international airspace alone, fighter jets would escort the drones. As detailed by Sandboxx News, the service often sent “F/A-18 Super Hornets off of the nearby USS John C. Stennis, but occasionally used F-22 Raptors operating out of bases in the United Arab Emirates.”
In 2013, an American drone met Iranian pilots again, but this time there was a new element. When a group of armed Iranian Phantoms came across the UAV, a Raptor was prepared to intercept.
According to then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, the F-22 pilot flew underneath the Phantoms, checked out their armaments, then pulled up right next to one of the airframes and radioed its pilot. When the Raptor pilot radioed the infamous “you oughta go home” line, the Phantoms listened carefully and retreated.
Iran Still Flies the Aging F-4 Phantom
Iran first got its hands on McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantoms following the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Since this time, Tehran has maintained and in some cases enhanced its fleet of F-4 fighters to boost its otherwise lackluster aerial capabilities.
The aging jet initially entered service in the U.S. back in the 1960s. While improved variants can be fitted with Iran’s acquired advanced air-launched anti-ship missile systems, the fighter is still generations behind the Raptor in terms of technology and capability, as depicted in the Predator story.
The F-22 Is Just Superior
The Raptor officially entered service with the U.S. Air Force in 2005. The Raptor was designed with a small radar cross-section and twin thrust-vectoring F119 turbofan engines to make the airframe less detectable and more formidable.
In addition to the F-22’s unparalleled dogfighting capabilities, the fighter possesses a high degree of sensor fusion and situational awareness.
According to the Air Force, “The F-22 has a significant capability to attack surface targets. In the air-to-ground configuration the aircraft can carry two 1,000-pound GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munitions internally and will use on-board avionics for navigation and weapons delivery support.”
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.