U.S. Amasses Stealth-Jet Armada Near Iran
By David Axe
April 27, 2012 |
9:42 am |
Categories: Air Force
The U.S. Air Force is quietly assembling the world’s most powerful air-to-air fighting team at bases near Iran. Stealthy F-22 Raptors on their first front-line deployment have joined a potent mix of active-duty and Air National Guard F-15 Eagles, including some fitted with the latest advanced radars. The Raptor-Eagle team has been honing special tactics for clearing the air of Iranian fighters in the event of war.
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.
It’s been years since the Air Force has maintained a significant dogfighting presence in the Middle East. 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.
The Air Force fixed the F-15s and partially patched up the F-22s just in time for the escalating stand-off over Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program. In March the Air Force deployed the Massachusetts Air National Guard’s 104th Fighter Wing, flying 20 standard F-15Cs, to an “undisclosed” air base in Southwest Asia — probably either Al Dhafra in the United Arab Emirates or Al Udeid in Qatar. The highly-experienced Massachusetts Guardsmen, who typically have several years more experience than their active-duty counterparts, would be ready “should Iran test the 104th,” said wing commander Col. Robert Brooks.
Upgraded F-15Cs from the 18th Wing in Japan joined the Guard Eagles. The Japan-based fighters have the latest APG-63(V)2 and (V)3 radars, manufactured by Raytheon. They’re electronically-scanned radars that radiate many individual beams from fixed antenna clusters and track more targets, faster, than old-model mechanical radars that must physically swivel back and forth. The 18th Wing is working up a fleet of 54 updated Eagles spread across two squadrons. The video above, shot by an F-15 pilot, depicts some of the wing’s training.
F-22s followed this month. “Multiple” Raptors deployed to Al Dhafra, according to Amy Butler at Aviation Week. Air Force spokesman Capt. Phil Ventura confirmed the deployment. It’s not clear where the Raptors came from. If they’re from the Alaska-based 3rd Wing, they’re the latest Increment 3.1 model with boosted bombing capabilities in addition to the standard air-to-air weaponry. In any event, the Middle East mission represents the first time F-22s are anywhere near a possible combat zone.