Was that a Lackluster F-22 Debut?

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The F-22’s combat debut –- the twin-engine stealth fighter was used in anger against Islamic State (IS) extremists gaining footholds in Syria and Iraq early Sept. 23 in a wave of air strikes -– was not the dazzle many had expected. After years of hearing the refrain of the F-22’s purpose to “kick down the door” (thank you Gen. John Jumper, former USAF chief of staff) of air defenses, clearing the way for other assets to do business in an air battle, many probably expected the F-22’s debut to be just that.

This refrain was drilled into staffers’ (and reporters’) heads on Capitol Hill as the Air Force fought to keep the program alive for years. And, for its high cost -– some estimate it is a $66 billion program -- let’s face it: many of us hoped for a debut that would draw on its sexy stealth capabilities or rumored dazzling electronic warfare (EW) prowess.

But, the Raptor’s first recorded kill was not emblemized by a photo of a smoldering MiG shot down in the dark of night. Rather, the Pentagon showed us a hole in the top of a building that defense officials said was a command and control center for forces in Raqqah, IS’s self-declared capital. A defense official now confirms that the F-22 used in this historic strike employed a GBU-32, a 1,000 lb. Joint Direct Attack Munition.

Before and after F-22 strike, US Defense Dept. 

The use of the F-22 nine years after it was declared operational raises an interesting question. Why now? We at Aviation Week won’t be the first or the only ones to opine on this subject. But, I wanted to get the talk started with our readers.

The air campaign that began this week over Syria was carried out in what Lt. Gen. William Mayville, director of operations for the Joint Staff described as “passive” air defenses.

Syria, however, is purported to possess decent air defenses –- some possibly integrated. And, we’ve not heard anything about Syrian air countering coalition assets. Arguably, this is a unique diplomatic backdrop for the debut of an asset designed at great cost to sneak in and out of air defenses and defeat any fighter that takes it on in the skies. The U.S. informed the Syrian government the strikes were coming by direct communication and there was no secret what was going to happen if you saw the news in the last few weeks. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is annoyed by IS, and we are providing a good pest control service. So, it is unlikely Syrian forces were going to engage coalition assets unless we went after certain national assets in Syria. Even then, it would be a gesture at best.

So, I wonder why was the F-22 used? Any number of assets can drop a 1,000 lb. Jdam, especially when the door that would need kicking down is wide open or, at the very least, slightly ajar. Did the aircraft’s sensors have some sort of classified effect? Was there an EW capability that, perhaps, we’ll find out about in months? Did someone in the chain of command just decide it was time to get the damn thing into the fight?

In the briefing, the closest explanation we got was from Mayville. “What we were looking at was the effects we wanted to see on the target areas and what platforms in the region would be best suited to do that,” he said during a Sept. 23 briefing. “We had a large menu of targets to strike from, and then we chose from there. 
So, it's less the platform than it is the effects we seek, and then it's what platform can deliver those effects. That's really the job of the [combined air operations center].”

We know the cause … I’m wondering what was the effect.

Discuss this Blog Entry 43

on Sep 24, 2014

Hi,

Our guess that the real interest was in the effect of Russia supplied Syrian radars on the F-22.

on Sep 24, 2014


"So, it's less the platform than it is the effects we seek, and then it's what platform can deliver those effects...."

In reference to this....while the above target is certainly badly damaged...based on visual inspection, I certainly wouldn't classify it as "destroyed".,..

Shouldn't a 1000 lb. JDAM have done more damage than this...?

on Sep 29, 2014

It looks like they dropped it down the elevator shaft and blew it up from the inside out. I imagine tje damage is quite severe on the inside, a hollow shell. After all a small caliber bullet wound in the forehead doesn't look too serious from the outside either...

on Jun 18, 2015

Assuming the JDAM only detonated after it had penetrated the roof, overpressure damage to the contents of the building (including IS staff) must have been massive.

on Sep 24, 2014

Why does everyone have to be so pessimistic ? They should be proud it is their nation that has one of the most lethal airplanes ever built. We don't know 1/2 of what this airplane is capable of. Perhaps the effects delivered were blinding the Syrians radars and electronic monitoring of what we were actually doing. Perhaps they used it just in case Syria would try something stupid despite us notifying them of our imminent actions. Perhaps we just wanted to get a little real world work in for the F-22 and its crews. Perhaps we did just want to test it and gather information on the enemy (Russian) equipment............just be proud of our nations technological prowess !

on Sep 25, 2014

Here Here!!

on Sep 27, 2014

It took our nation took 28 years -- nearly THREE DECADES -- and gazillions of dollars, to put this thing into action.

So much for the much-vaunted "technological prowess" of the American "military-industrial complex."

How many MONTHS would it have taken the Israelis to do the same? (Or, for that matter, the Swedes?)

Though I hate to say it, this could have been done by drones.

on Sep 29, 2014

It took eight years for it to go from concept to production and it was flying actual missons shortly thereafter (too bad the Chinese or Russians didn't attack them over the Pacific so they could see some "action"). If you really think the Swedes or Israelis could actually produce something equivalent to the f-22 then you are sadly ignorant of the f-22's capabilities or of the capabilities of the Swedes and Israelis. Really your post is the worst kind of hyperbole.

on Jun 18, 2015

No, I don't think it could have been done by any currently-operational drone - not without using the drone itself as a missile. A few years from now, the General Atomics Predator-C/Avenger could do the same work with several Small-Diameter Bombs or Air-to-Ground missiles. But I don't think our drone arsenal's capable of delivering JDAMs just now.

on Sep 25, 2014

The talking heads keep referring to the Syrian air defense system as "strong".
Yet the Israelis took out the Syrian nuclear facility, then bombed two munitions shipments to Hezbollah located in the Damascus suburbs.
By all reports, unmolested.
Tell me again about the strong Syrian air defense system ...

on Sep 25, 2014

The Russians have installed upgraded AA systems since the 2007 Israeli bombing of the Syrian nuke facility.

on Sep 25, 2014

Boys and their toys piling on a mission just like Granada.

on Sep 25, 2014

Perhaps the truth is that most tactical target sets don't require exquisite aircraft to attack, and the F-22As were already in the region on their regular rotation, so they were simply available. And perhaps Increment 3.1 makes the F-22A a practical platform for strike missions, and perhaps there is an operational gateway platform deployed that enables proper communications...

Joe
on Sep 25, 2014

BACN?

on Sep 25, 2014

The F-117's combat debut could similarly be termed "lackluster." I imagine there are any number of theoretical reasons for sending the F-22 in for what was a simple bomb truck drop in a fairly permissive environment, but sometimes that first mission is just there to be a first mission. Low threat, high probability of success, validation of processes, learning lessons, and just getting it out of the way.

on Sep 25, 2014

jeb.hoge beat me to recalling the first combat for the F-117 was dropping a bomb deliberately in an empty field during Op Just Cause in Panama. In case others haven't noticed, our tactical air is a lot smaller in numbers than it used to be and the F-22 was available and capable.

on Sep 25, 2014

Use it, or lose it.

on Sep 25, 2014

The F-22 was designed as a cold war air superiority fighter with not a pound for air-to-ground. When the Berlin wall came down and peace broke out in Europe, the immediate threat disappeared and we were too far into the development of the F-22 to cancel it. Air to ground capability was then added.

on Sep 25, 2014

And we wonder what OTHER capability will be added to the F-35 IF it EVER gets "mission capable" ............

on Sep 25, 2014

"Not a pound for air-to-ground" was actually used for the F-15 Eagle program. But guess what? Such an aircraft has inherit ground attack capabilities: superb payload due to tremendous thrust to weight ratio, huge radar and EW capabilities work well for ground attack as well and today's smaller precision attack weapons all fit in the internal bays of the stealth aircraft.

on Sep 25, 2014

For a while, the Raptor was designated as F/A-22, primarily in an attempt to convince Congress that it would have something to do from Day Two onwards and not just be expensive static displays on the ramp.

on Jun 18, 2015

Actually, there was as FB-22 "Strike Raptor" in the pipeline, capable of carrying 30 Small-Diameter Bombs as opposed to the eight that the F-22 can carry. It was cancelled in the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review.

on Sep 25, 2014

I thnk I may be the only one to bring this point up. Is it remotely possible that ISIS has obtained air defenses (radar and SAMs)? Rebles in Ukraine have them. Who's to say a well funded organization such as ISIS hasn't purchased , stollen, or captured weaponry to take out aircraft? They must have known for some time now that eventually we would launch airstrikes. Perhaps the F-22 was used against targets we feared could have protection.

on Sep 25, 2014

Only if their enemies have any airforce to speak of.

on Sep 27, 2014

Radar-guided missles are all it takes. Hardware like Hawks and Sea Sparrows don't require an air force to shoot planes out of the sky, as the Russian/Ukraine-rebel ground forces demonstrated to that Malaysian jetliner at altitude, and as the USS Vincennes demonstrated, decades ago, to that Iranian Airbus at altitude.

That's an argument for using a stealth craft in a first strike operation. Of course, the gazillion-dollar Raptor might be overkill. A stealth drone might have been adequate, and lower risk to the crew.

on Jun 18, 2015

Good point. Stingers are all OVER the Middle East, ever since we started giving them to the mujhaideen fighters in Afghanistan, and it's a safe bet that IS probably had access to Syrian Grail MANPADS as well.

Joe
on Sep 25, 2014

(at least two) good reasons to use the F22;

1. It has great ISR and EW capabilities, so it can go in first, while we still don't know the full laydown of mobile EADs or for sure whether Syrian forces (with pretty good IADS, BTW) will try to shoot us down...and stay alive, while gathering more info on enemy disposition.

2. It is stealthy, so (as this was a first strike target) neither ISIL nor Syrian forces will see us coming. As an ISIL HQ, we don't want bad guys running from the building...we want them dead inside the building. So if you don't want anybody tipping them off that we're on the way, you send in stealth first. Not saying we were 100% successful on that count, but that is why you want to use stealth on the first strike

on Sep 27, 2014

It would be surprising if ISIS/ISIL is so ignorant as to have ignored all the pre-attack warnings given from the President's podium, and everywhere else. Find it hard to think they'd be sitting in the open in such an obvious target. Would think they'd have dug in, somewhere, and/or dispersed C&C assets, long before the strike.

Would have been realistic to suspect that the facility would be heavily defended -- even operated, post-evac, as an attractive decoy to draw US aircraft within AA range. A valid reason to use stealth craft, though probably better at night (daylight recon photos don't preclude it having been a night attack).

on Sep 25, 2014

Nothing a paid for, cheap F-117 couldn't have done. I agree, this was a pretty weak use of the platform. Not much reward for the risk.

Joe
on Sep 25, 2014

F117s were retired in 2008, for good reasons. They have no wings, so they could NOT have executed this mission. Get your facts before you make a dumb comment again.

on Sep 26, 2014

The comment isn't dumb, the airforce is. The F-117 was cut up deliberately to justify and prevent the axing of the F-35, which is now very very late.

Joe
on Sep 26, 2014

The writer either proposed a hypothetical alternative, meaning he knew the F117s were cut up in 2008 but couldn't think of a real alternative, or, he was proposing what he thought was a real alternative, which meant he didn't know they were cut up. Unless you have a time machine in your pocket, a dumb comment either way. Dumb-de-dumb dumb.

on Sep 25, 2014

Ahh, so sorry to dissapoint so many people with the low-key F-22 debut. Perhaps it would have been better if it had dropped several 1000lb GBUs and killed hundreds of terrorists and civilians? Or perhaps defending the airspace over an ally country after being attacked by SCUDs captured by ISIS. Need a napkin?

on Sep 25, 2014

Killing hundreds of terrorists, with some collateral deaths shoulda like a great cost-benefit.

on Sep 27, 2014

"Collateral damage" - the vague, crude, miltary euphism for "killing innocent people."

Needless "collateral" casualties are self-defeating.

They generate new and greater, angrier, fiercer opposition -- while simultaneously undermining the respect, tolerance, and trust of the wider world, and the support of allies.

When it comes to non-combatant civilians, only an idiot is casual about casualties.

on Sep 25, 2014

I wouldn't be surprised if it was also intended as a show of force to Russia, now that they're acting up and flying into the U.S. ADIZ more frequently now. Letting them know our 5th-gen fighter is the only one in service and we'll use it if necessary.

on Sep 25, 2014

The Pentagon is one gigantic PR operation. With the Budget-busting, career-ruining, and increasing criticism that is the F-35, this mission was all about colonels adding stars to their shoulders, and funding the next fiasco, a new strategic bomber.

on Sep 25, 2014

<1coolguy> The two Israeli raids near Damascus were quite recent.

on Sep 25, 2014

The F-22 production line is closed forever. Now that this PR stunt is over & we can all say the Raptor is multi-role, put it back in the hanger until we need to shoot things down. F-22 flight hours are too precious to waste on any more bomb trucking.

on Sep 29, 2014

Judging from the BDA photo, I suspect it was a 250 lb. small diameter bomb, rather than a 1,000 lb. GBU as reported. Unless a dud, or fused to explode far below the building, a 1,000 lb GBU would have substantially destroyed the building.

on Sep 29, 2014

I remember visiting the Advanced Tactical Fighter program office at WPAFB in the late 1980s from the Pentagon. As you entered the ATF building you were greeted by a VERY large sign that said: "Not a Pound for Air to Ground! (...and don't you forget it!)". The Fighter Pilot mafia was running the Air Force at that time and their mantra was "If you don't fly a single-seat jet, you aint shit!"

on Sep 30, 2014

Multiple strategic reasons to use the F-22 in light of uncertain Syrian application of latest Russian SAM technology:
a. if Assad's army went hostile, we had the stealthiest aircraft able to do the mission in the F-22
b. Assad's army could likely be expected to throw everything in the SAM radar bag of tricks at the F-22, whether in anger or not, to test their new systems out on the F-22 for the Russians. I suspect a USAF electronic intelligence aircraft was orbiting over Turkish airspace for ingress through egress to record it all.
c. Intelligence value to future USAF operations worldwide while gathering this intelligence in a setting where the F-22's were not likely to be shot at. Assessing what they tried and what they were able to track is transiently priceless.

on Apr 25, 2016

Bill Gates states cutting the F-22 program in half was his biggest mistake! It was Obama's first cut to our military followed by many more. I have not heard one reputable Air Force senior officer ever state the decision to limit the number of F-22s was a good one. Let's get a new President who will review this Obama cut to our superb Air Force and take the tools out of storage and restart production.

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