In Syria, Pentagon's F-22 Fighter Plane Makes First Combat Appearance
Pilots Fly F-22 Over Syria to Bomb Militant Islamic State Group Targets
By Julian E. Barnes in the Wall Street Journal
WASHINGTON—The Pentagon's most advanced fighter plane made its combat debut in the U.S.-led strikes on Syria, serving a crucial purpose for a sensitive mission that depended on stealth.
Pilots flying the F-22 Raptor flew bombing runs over Syria to target the militant Islamic State group, U.S. officials said.
Officials didn't say what targets the F-22 struck, but said it was used later in the series of strikes, which lasted several hours.
The plane is one of the country's most expensive—the F-22 program has cost $67 billion and only 188 planes have been built—but U.S. policy makers have been reluctant to use it in combat, in part because its high-end capabilities weren't needed for militant threats that the U.S. has been focused on for the past decade.
"The ultimate decision being made—that we are to use this aircraft against an adversary—is a unique and momentous decision for the United States Air Force," said an Air Force official.
Military officials said the plane's ability to avoid detection by the advanced Syrian air defense systems was one reason to use it. But its ability to fly higher and faster than other fighters also allows it to drop its 1,000-pound guided bomb from a much greater distance than older fighter planes, Air Force officials said.
According to the F-22's unclassified specifications, it can drop a precision bomb from at least 15 miles away from its target.
"It has a unique ability to approach adversaries in a way legacy aircraft can't," said the Air Force official. "There are things the F-22 is uniquely suited to address that the other fighters in our inventory can't."
The plane, built by Lockheed Martin Corp., also has advanced sensors that allow it to have a detailed view of a battlefield and to coordinate the attacks of other planes, although it wasn't clear if these capabilities were used in the attacks Tuesday.
F-22s have been deployed to Asia, at a base in Japan, and to the Middle East, at a base in the United Arab Emirates. But the U.S. has been reluctant to use them in actual missions, in part because the U.S. military operations have mostly targeted insurgent and terrorist groups, not states with sophisticated air defenses.
Until now, the F-22 has been used mainly as a deterrent against Iran as well as North Korea. In 2013, the U.S. made the planes part of a show of force against North Korea, but only by putting them on display in Seoul.
Like many Air Force programs, the F-22 suffered from cost overruns and other problems while in development and afterward. In 2011, the U.S. grounded the F-22 for safety reasons, but later lifted the restriction.