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F-22 Raptors make combat debut in Syrian assault

Daily Press

The Air Force's F-22 Raptor made its combat debut in U.S.-led airstrikes overnight Monday aimed at the Islamic State and other militant groups in Syria.

Pentagon officials confirmed Tuesday that the stealth fighter jet was used in the second of three assault waves to target one of the IS command and control facilities. The airstrikes were part of a U.S.-led coalition — which included the Arab nations of Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — in an effort to stamp out the terrorist groups in Syria.

Langley Air Force Base is home to Raptor squadrons, but military officials would not confirm Tuesday if local F-22s were used in combat.

Local naval forces also played a key role in the attacks.

The Norfolk-based USS Arleigh Burke initiated Monday's attack, launching tomahawk missiles from the Red Sea around midnight in Syria — 8:30 p.m. locally, according to a statement from Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Forty-seven cruise missiles destined for targets in eastern and northern Syria were fired from the destroyer and the USS Philippine Sea in the North Arabian Gulf.

Around 9 p.m. Eastern time, F-22s, F-15 Strike Eagles, F-16s, B-1 bombers and drones launched from bases in the region dropped bombs in northern Syria, the general said.

“This strike was the first time the F-22 was used in a combat role,” Mayville said.

The general displayed photos during a news conference Tuesday to describe how the Raptors participated in a surgical strike against IS leadership: “The flight … delivered GPS-guided munitions, precision munitions, targeting only the right side of the building. You can see … that the command-and-control center where it was located in the building was destroyed.”

A final wave of F-18s from the USS George H.W. Bush attacked targets in eastern Syria around midnight. The Bush, which left Norfolk in February with the destroyer Burke, has been in the Arabian Gulf with the Fifth Fleet for weeks, launching strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq.

The strike group is expected to remain in the area for an extended campaign against the Islamic State.

The F-22 has been held back from recent combat missions because its high-end capabilities have not been necessary when fighting ground-based threats such as the Taliban and al-Qaida. The aircraft's ability to avoid detection by the advanced Syrian air defense systems was one reason military officials decided to use it, The Wall Street Journal said.

Langley Air Force Base is home to three squadrons — two Air Force and one Air National Guard — flying what is called the military's most advanced fighter plane.

The F-22s represent a relatively small fleet — only 187 Raptors were made. They are only stationed at four other bases: Elmendorf AFB in Alaska, Holloman AFB in New Mexico, Tyndall AFB in Florida and Hickam AFB in Hawaii.

Rockett can be reached by phone at 757-247-4942.

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