The US Air Force has deployed a squadron of F-22 Raptors to the Middle East to boost its growing presence in the region. The F-22s arrived at Al Udeid, Qatar, on June 27, marking the first deployment for the type at this base.
It’s notable that the USAF official imagery was doctored in order to cover the identity of the unit involved, although it was later disclosed that the aircraft arrived from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, so either the 1st Fighter Wing or its Air National Guard-associate unit the 192nd FW is involved.
It comes as the US increases its military presence in the Gulf region amid tensions with Iran, with four B-52Hs from the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale AFB having also deployed to Al Udeid, along with as many as 30 F-15E Strike Eagles that are now in the region. The 4th FW’s 336th Fighter Squadron arrived at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, on June 14. The additional 12 means that 30 aircraft from the 335th and 336th Fighter Squadrons are now in theater. Al Dhafra is also hosting F-35As from Hill AFB and F-15Cs from RAF Lakenheath, UK.
Al Dhafra was home to a permanent F-22A detachment — manned by a rolling series of deployments by the six operational Raptor units and their associated ANG and Reserve Command squadrons — until last year.
Since production began, the Raptors have received a number of evolutionary upgrades known as Increments. The latest is Increment 3.2 with enhanced electronic protection and improved communications that included a Link 16 datalink receive mode and enhanced combat identification and targeting capabilities were added by the Increment 3.2A software upgrade. Increment 3.2B delivers improvements to the intra-flight datalink and enhanced stores management system (ESMS). Additionally, it upgrades emitter geo-location and electronic protection capabilities and provides AIM-9X Block 2 and AIM-120D integration.
Upgrades are under way and 143 Raptors will receive the upgrades at a cost of around $1.5 billion. Nine F-22As were updated as part of the development phase. The Block II AIM-9X features a lock-on-after-launch capability that supports beyond visual range engagements.
Communications upgrades including the Multi-Function Information Distribution System-Joint (MIDS-J) that will allow the fighter to meet Tactical Mandates (TACMAN) by 2020. The USAF will also equip Raptor pilots with a helmet-mounted display system and is looking at sensor enhancements. The latter is part of program that will begin in 2024.
Once Increment 3.2B modifications are complete, the F-22A fleet will comprise 139 combat-coded Block 30/35s, 32 training Block 20s, 12 development test/operational test (DT/OT) Block 20/30/35s and two pre-block test aircraft. The Block 30/35s will include 39 Block 20 aircraft from Lots 3 and 4 that will be upgraded.
The F-22 will be the first USAF fighter to field the new AIM-260 Joint Air Tactical Missile (JATM), the successor to the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM).