The stealth jet fighters have been quietly deployed to hangars at the UAE’s Al Dafra Air Base, less than 200 miles from Iran’s mainland, according to a recent report by Aviation Week, a trade publication.
While an Air Force spokesman confirmed to ABC News that the Raptors have been deployed to a base in southwest Asia, which includes the UAE, he assured the network that the presence of the jets was not meant to be a threat to Iran.
“This is a very normal deployment to strengthen military relationships, promote sovereign and regional security, improve combined tactical air operations and enhance interoperability of forces,” Lt. Col. John Dorrian told ABC. He declined to tell the network what the Raptors’ mission was or how many planes had been deployed, citing operational security.
The F-22 Raptor has reportedly been in the UAE just once before, for training missions with coalition partners in 2009.
The sophisticated aircraft has never been tested in combat.
They were never used in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or air missions over Libya because they were simply not needed, Air Force officials have said.
In 2009, the Obama administration announced plans to end the country’s production of the F-22 Raptor, which go through final assembly at Lockheed’s plant in Marietta. Proponents of the plan argued that the advanced planes were not appropriate for battling insurgents and that less-capable and less expensive aircraft could do an adequate job of filling in for the F-22 and aging other fighters in the U.S. arsenal. The Raptors cost roughly $140 million each.
The news of the deployment comes just days before Wednesday’s scheduled “fly-away ceremony” for the final copy of the 195 Raptors assembled at Lockheed’s plant in Marietta, where about 2,000 jobs have been directly related to its production.
That 195th plane rolled out of the plant in December and has been undergoing flight tests since then. It is slated to be stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska. The ceremony is expected to be attended by top Pentagon and Lockheed officials.
Although news reports have focused on the Raptor’s unparalleled dogfighting ability – it can knock enemy airplanes out of the sky before they have even crossed the horizon – one of the Raptor’s other roles might be an even greater factor behind the present deployment. That would be as an air-to-ground attack jet, a destroyer of enemy surface-to-air missile sites.
During the Vietnam War, ground-fired anti-aircraft missiles proved lethal against U.S. air forces and have since become much more sophisticated. F-22s were designed not only to sweep the skies of enemy planes, but also to destroy surface-to-air missile sites, making it safe for American bombers and other aircraft to perform their missions and maintain control over enemy airspace.
Therefore, if U.S. air forces were to be involved in an attack on Iran, the Raptors would almost certainly be among the very first aircraft to enter Iranian air space.
According to Wired magazine, the Pentagon has gradually been assembling an air-to-air fighting team composed of a mix of older F-15s and ultra-modern F-22 aircraft at bases near Iran. The fighters join a growing naval armada that includes Navy carriers, submarines, cruisers and destroyers, plus patrol boats and minesweepers enhanced with the latest close-in weaponry, the technology magazine recently reported.
“It’s been years since the Air Force has maintained a significant dogfighting presence in the Middle East,” wrote Wired’s David Axe.
“During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Boeing-made F-15Cs flew air patrols from Saudi Arabia, but the Iraqi air force put up no resistance and the Eagle squadrons soon departed. For the next nine years Air Force deployments to the Middle East were handled by ground-attack planes such as A-10s, F-16s and twin-seat F-15E Strike Eagles.”
Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson is one of four bases at which operational Raptors are stationed. The others are Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia; Hollomon Air Force Base in New Mexico and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii. Flight testing is done at Edwards Air Force Base in California and operational tactics development takes place at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.
— Editorial page editor Joe Kirby contributed to this report.