The U.S. Air Force has deployed an undisclosed number of F-22 Raptors to the Middle East – the United States Central Command’s (CENCOM’s) area of responsibility – to address unsafe and unprofessional behavior by Russian aircraft in the region. The fifth-generation air superiority fighters are part of a multifaceted show of U.S. support and capability.
The Raptors have been deployed from Langley Air Force Base, Virginia’s, 94th Fighter Squadron. They will demonstrate the U.S. Air Force’s ability to re-posture forces and deliver overwhelming power at a moment’s notice. While in the CENTCOM area, the 94th Fighter Squadron will integrate with coalition forces on the ground and in the air.
This rapid deployment and integration into coalition operations is a clear demonstration of the commitment shared by partners, allies, and the U.S. to long-term peace and stability in the region, CENTCOM stated.
“Russian Forces’ unsafe and unprofessional behavior is not what we expect from a professional air force. Their regular violation of agreed upon airspace deconfliction measures increases the risk of escalation or miscalculation,” explained Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, commander of U.S. Central Command. “Alongside our partners and allies, we are committed to improving the security and stability in the region.”
F-22 Is Coming: The Situation in Syria
Russia currently maintains more than 2,500 personnel in Syria to support the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus, and Moscow has long sought U.S. withdrawal from the country. However, there remain some 900 American troops located largely in the northeast of Syria, where they continue to carry out raids alongside local forces to uproot the remnants of the Islamic State group.
Russia has deployed a number of Sukhoi Su-34 jets to Syria. These aircraft are armed with a variety of radar-guided air-to-air missiles, as well as air-to-ground munitions.
Aerial Close Encounters
Both the United States and Russia have aircraft operating with regularity over the skies of Syria. Despite an attempt by the U.S. to present a de-escalatory posture, there have been reports of Russian pilots harassing U.S. aircraft. This pattern began last year, around the time that Moscow launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
At this week’s Defense One Tech Summit, Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, head of the U.S. Air Forces Central Command, warned that Russian aviators are continuing to bait U.S. pilots into dogfighting, stating “This is one place where combatant command [boundary] lines aren’t helpful.”
The close encounters are not just taking place in the sky. Grynkewich also told NBC News in March that Russian jets flew over a U.S. military outpost in Syria daily.
“They’re regularly flying directly overhead of our units, and I’ve defined directly overhead, as within about a mile, no more than a mile offset one side or the other, while we’ve got forces right there on the ground at ATG,” said Grynkewich. “So it’s an uncomfortable situation.”
In mid-March, a Russian Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jet collided with an American MQ-9 drone over the Black Sea. Following the incident, Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu awarded the Russian fighter pilots with the ‘Orders of Courage’ medal, which Grynkewich said only encourages other Russian pilots to fly aggressively.
“For the life of me, I don’t know why the Russians give a medal to someone who makes such an egregious mistake and has such a lack of airmanship. It reflects a decline in the professionalization of their air force, in my view, but they’ve done it,” the general added.
Now that F-22s will be operating in the region, it will be worth noting whether Russian pilots will be quite so bold.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.