The multiple airstrikes launched on militant targets in Syria early Tuesday by the United States and five partner nations in the Middle East included a debut performance: The Air Force’s stealthy F-22A Raptor flew its first combat mission, dropping bombs on multiple targets.
The fighter jet was used as part of a second wave of strikes, said Army Lt. Gen. William C. Mayville Jr., director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was joined over northern Syria by F-15 Strike Eagles, F-16s, B-1 bombers and drones launched “from bases across the region” around 9 p.m. Monday Eastern Daylight Time (4 a.m. Tuesday local time).
Mayville showed media at the Pentagon on Tuesday the effects of the F-22 strikes. Photos depicted a building in Raqqah, in north-central Syria, where the Islamic State militant group maintained a headquarters. The strike targeted only the right side, where the “command and control center” was, Mayville said.
— U.S. Dept of Defense (@DeptofDefense) September 23, 2014
The plane, primarily built by Lockheed Martin with support from Boeing and other contractors, has a history marked by its expensive cost and difficulties with maintenance. Funding for the program was cut in 2009, resulting in the Air Force receiving the last of its 187 Raptors in 2012. The program is expected to cost at least $67 billion.
The first F-22 flew in 1997. The plane was not used over Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya, and it was mired in controversy after a fighter pilot was killed in a Nov. 16, 2010, crash in Alaska. Air Force officials attributed the crash to pilot error, but the Defense Department inspector general later determined that the service’s investigation was riddled with inaccuracies. In 2012, then-Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta ordered the Air Force to curtail F-22 flights until it had installed backup oxygen generators in the plane after pilots complained about fainting in the cockpit.
Over Syria, the F-22A gives the United States a jet that is hard to see on radar and that can carry air-to-air missiles and bombs that can be guided on target with global positioning systems. One concern about flying over Syria is the country’s relatively robust radar and air defense system, but Mayville said Tuesday that the government’s radar could be characterized as passive, a possible sign that the Syrian regime agreed not to target U.S. and partner aircraft.