SOUTHWEST ASIA: Airmen completed the first deployment of F-22 Raptors to the Middle East in mid-December.
The fifth-generation fighters and their crews were in the area as part of a multinational exercise where pilots from a variety of nations train together in fighting a large-scale air war.
This was the first deployment to the U.S. Air Forces Central area of responsibility for the 150 Airmen deployed from Langley Air Force Base, Va., and the six F-22s they operated.
“We didn’t know how the jet was going to perform or react, given the temperature differences as well as the dust, sand and wind,” said Lt. Col. Lance Pilch, the 27th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron commander. “But we were able to fly more sorties than we scheduled for, so the F-22 actually exceeded expectations.”
The F-22 previously deployed to Kadena Air Base, Japan, and Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, for exercises in the Pacific.
“This was historic because it’s a new weapon system, and although we had shown we can deploy to other places, we hadn’t proven we could operate here,” said Maj. Daniel Bunts, a member of the Virginia Air National Guard who flies F-22s with the 27th Fighter Squadron.
In addition to the U.S., exercise participants included aircrews from France, Jordan, Pakistan and England.
Although the F-22s weren’t participating directly in the exercise, they flew alongside crews from the participating nations in training sorties.
“Now that we’ve done some training together, they have a better understanding of what we can do with this jet, so if we ever need to partner together, they know what they can expect from us as their wingmen,” Major Bunts said. “But it’s also important for us to put a face to the weapon system for our partners. We’ve made great friends out here.”
Building partnerships is largely what exercises like this are all about. But now that the F-22 has proven capable in the environment here, the crews hope to return to participate in more exercises, and even provide airpower in the region, Colonel Pilch said.
“The F-22 has so many capabilities, from overall air dominance to relaying situational awareness to putting bombs on target,” Colonel Pilch said. “So when it becomes our turn to come here and support the troops on the ground, now we know: the Raptor is ready.”