US F-22 Fighter Jets Deployed to Middle East Amid Russian Aircraft Activity

US F-22 Fighter Jets Deployed to Middle East Amid Russian Aircraft Activity
U.S. B-1B bombers, F-22 fighter jets, and F-35 fighter jets in action during joint drills between the United States and South Korea on Feb. 1, 2023, in a still from video. (South Korea's Defense Ministry Handout via Reuters/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)
Katabella Roberts

The United States deployed F-22 fighter jets to the Middle East this week as part of a “multifaceted show of U.S. support and capability” amid “increasingly unsafe and unprofessional behavior” by Russian aircraft in the region.

The F-22 Raptors, from the 94th Fighter Squadron out of Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, will be demonstrating America’s ability to “re-posture forces and deliver overwhelming power at a moment’s notice,” U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a June 14 statement.

CENTCOM says the F-22 is the “best fifth-generation fighter in the world.” It’s an all-weather tactical stealth fighter aircraft that can perform air-to-air or air-to-ground missions.

While in the Middle East, the 94th Fighter Squadron will “integrate” into coalition forces’ operations on the ground and in the air in the area, which also covers parts of South and Central Asia, officials said.

The deployment of the F-22s marks a “clear demonstration of the commitment shared by partners, allies, and the U.S. to long-term peace and stability in the region,” officials said.

‘Unprofessional Behavior’

“Russian Forces’ unsafe and unprofessional behavior is not what we expect from a professional air force. Their regular violation of agreed-upon airspace deconfliction measures increases the risk of escalation or miscalculation,” said CENTCOM commander Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla.

“Alongside our partners and allies, we are committed to improving the security and stability in the region.”

The announcement comes amid increasing tensions between Washington and Moscow since the latter’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine in 2022. It also follows a string of “unprofessional behavior” from Russian aircraft in the Middle East in recent months, according to officials.

In March, armed Russian jets flew over a U.S. military post in Syria nearly every day that month, in violation of an agreement between the nations, Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, combined forces air component commander for CENTCOM, told NBC News.

Moscow’s actions risk increasing escalation, Grynkewich said.

In addition, Russian pilots attempted in April to “dogfight” U.S. jets over Syria, officials said. Video footage of that incident released by CENTCOM showed a Russian SU-35 fighter jet conducting an “unsafe and unprofessional” intercept of a U.S. F-16 fighter jet.

Later that month, Air Forces Central officials said coalition and partner forces had been attacked by militia groups on the ground, noting that armed Russian fighter aircraft flew over their positions 26 times from March 1 to April 19.

Russian Pilots Awarded

“These flights are not in line with 2019 protocols established between the Coalition and Russia to avoid miscalculations and potentially dangerous encounters in airspace over Syria,” officials said.

In May, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said it detected, tracked, and intercepted six Russian aircraft operating in airspace near Alaska.

The Russian aircraft included Tu-95 bombers, Il-78 tankers, and Su-35 fighters, although NORAD stated at the time that such Russian activity in the North American air defense identification zone occurs “regularly” and is “not seen as a threat.”

Other incidents have occurred, including in March when Russian Su-27 aircraft “struck the propeller“ of a U.S. drone over the Black Sea after initially dumping fuel on the craft, prompting U.S. forces to bring the unmanned drone down in international waters.

The Russian pilots were reportedly given awards from Moscow for their actions.

“If you’re going to give medals to Russian fighter pilots for pouring gas on a UAV and then knocking it out of the sky by crashing into it while they’re operating over the Black Sea, then the Russian pilots that serve in other parts of the world such as Syria see that and that’s going to incentivize them,” Grynkewich said at the Defense One Tech Summit in May.

“Now, we see similar aggressive behavior, not quite to that degree yet, but we see very aggressive behavior out of their pilots.”

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