Yesterday’s dramatic air strikes on Syria included a “first” that may have escaped some news watchers: the combat debut of the F-22 Raptor, the most advanced fighter in the U.S. fleet. The fifth-generation jet—operational since 2005 but known so far mostly for technical troubles and airshow appearances—flew as part of three waves of attacks against ISIL and the Khorasan group, an al Qaeda affiliate that was planning “imminent attacks” against the United States and Europe, according to Army Lt. General William Mayville Jr., director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who spoke at a Pentagon briefing today.
Mayville seemed to downplay the significance of putting the F-22 in the fight. U.S. military planners, he said, “had a large menu of targets” to pick from—including training camps, financial buildings, and barracks—so “it was less the platform” and more the results they hoped for, that determined which aircraft got the call. “You’re seeing the beginning of a sustained and credible campaign” against terrorists in Syria and Iraq, Mayville said.
Here’s a Pentagon-released video of a strike against an ISIL compound.
The first wave involved 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles from the guided missile destroyer Arleigh Burke and guided missile cruiser Philippine Sea. Then came strikes from the Raptor, the F-15, and F-16. Finally came attacks by the F/A-18 and F-16. Coalition partners Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Bahrain joined in on the second and third waves, but Mayville declined to say what they did.
The stealthy F-22 was a natural choice for the air strikes, given Syria’s normally robust air defense system. But Mayville said the Syrian system was “passive” during the strikes, and no coalition fighters were lost.