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F-22 adapts to OIR conflict, ‘Cleared Hot’ in Iraq, Syria

F-22 Raptors prepare to taxi at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, August 30, 2015. The F-22’s combination of sensor capability, integrated avionics, situational awareness, and weapons provides first-kill opportunity against threats. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/ Staff Sgt. Sandra Welch)

F-22 Raptors prepare to taxi at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, August 30, 2015. The F-22’s combination of sensor capability, integrated avionics, situational awareness, and weapons provides first-kill opportunity against threats. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/ Staff Sgt. Sandra Welch)

380th Expeditionary Maintenance Airmen prepare to load munitions on an F-22 Raptor while another F-22 Raptor taxis on the runway at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, August 30, 2015. The F-22’s combination of sensor capability, integrated avionics, situational awareness, and weapons provides first-kill opportunity against threats. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. Sandra Welch)

380th Expeditionary Maintenance Airmen prepare to load munitions on an F-22 Raptor while another F-22 Raptor taxis on the runway at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, August 30, 2015. The F-22’s combination of sensor capability, integrated avionics, situational awareness, and weapons provides first-kill opportunity against threats. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. Sandra Welch)

380th Expeditionary Maintenance Airmen prepare to load munitions on an F-22 Raptor at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, August 30, 2015. The F-22’s combination of sensor capability, integrated avionics, situational awareness, and weapons provides first-kill opportunity against threats. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/ Staff Sgt. Sandra Welch)

380th Expeditionary Maintenance Airmen prepare to load munitions on an F-22 Raptor at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, August 30, 2015. The F-22’s combination of sensor capability, integrated avionics, situational awareness, and weapons provides first-kill opportunity against threats. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/ Staff Sgt. Sandra Welch)

380th Expeditionary Maintenance Airmen prepare to load munitions on an F-22 Raptor at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, August 30, 2015. The F-22’s combination of sensor capability, integrated avionics, situational awareness, and weapons provides first-kill opportunity against threats. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/ Staff Sgt. Sandra Welch)

380th Expeditionary Maintenance Airmen prepare to load munitions on an F-22 Raptor at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, August 30, 2015. The F-22’s combination of sensor capability, integrated avionics, situational awareness, and weapons provides first-kill opportunity against threats. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/ Staff Sgt. Sandra Welch)

SOUTHWEST ASIA -- On June 23, a pair of F-22 Raptors flying over Syria received a 9-line request for short-notice airstrikes from a Joint Terminal Attack Controller.

The JTAC’s target was two field artillery pieces operated by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as Daesh, threatening friendly forces.

The Joint Operations Center relayed the strike coordination to the fighters using space-based assets and remotely piloted aircraft. Within minutes, the Raptors each released multiple satellite-guided, small-diameter bombs on the targets, destroying them in close proximity to friendly forces.

Weeks later, another pair of F-22s flying over Iraq executed a similar short-notice airstrike. The Raptors released two GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, destroying two Daesh-controlled fighting positions in Iraq’s Al-Anbar Province.

These strikes marked the F-22’s first Close Air Support engagements, a role not typically associated with the airframe, but one becoming routine for Raptor pilots in Operation INHERENT RESOLVE.

Designed for air dominance, the F-22 pilots have adjusted to an evolving battlespace to meet the demands of ground forces and Coalition partners.

“Since 2005, F-22 training has focused on our primary missions; air-to-air combat and precision strikes against highly defended ground targets,” said Lt. Col. J, F-22 Expeditionary Fighter Squadron commander. “However, ten years later, the F-22’s air-to-ground capabilities are more robust, CAS procedures have evolved to incorporate advances in technology, and this operational environment is different than we envisioned in 2005. Before deploying, we kind of anticipated we might find ourselves in a situation to provide CAS out here.”

“Just because our airplane was intended to do other missions doesn’t mean we can’t adapt, innovate and become more relevant to the current fight. Our goal is to provide the air and ground commanders the effects they need today. I believe we can do that without sacrificing our core competencies,” he added.

To assist with the transition to CAS missions, a prior JTAC and current F-22 pilot leveraged his experience to develop training scenarios that familiarized F-22 pilots with CAS procedures and tactics. These included immersion training with F-15E CAS experts and live-fly exercises with Navy SEAL JTACs.

“Moving in to this fight, there was a certain language that we didn’t speak,” said Maj. J, F-22 pilot. “Being a former JTAC, I had knowledge which I used as building blocks to teach my fellow pilots the terminology and the 9-line system. From there we transitioned to real-world training scenarios and then moved to executing it in combat. It was extremely fulfilling to see how this training enabled F-22s to support Coalition ground forces in combat.”

That training proved invaluable during the first F-22 CAS strikes flown by Capt. E and Capt. M.

“Every time I take off, I want to drop bombs and make a positive impact out there. And this is merely another way we’ve discovered of enabling that,” said Capt. E.

The pilots of the fifth-generation fighter have remained flexible during OIR, taking the F-22 platform in to new territory while fulfilling their primary role of aerial dominance.

If CAS is the F-22’s latest combat adaption, it is not the only one. Raptors have previously demonstrated creative ways to provide needed capabilities to the Coalition during OIR, according to Lt. Col. J.

“In addition to providing CAS, F-22 pilots use the aircraft’s advanced sensors to provide increased situational awareness to Coalition forces, complementing our airborne command and control platforms. Additionally, we initiated a process to distribute certain information collected by F-22 sensors to the intelligence community; it’s another way we use this platform to help the Coalition.” said Lt. Col. J.

However, Lt. Col. J said the F-22 is not going to become solely a CAS asset.

“Frankly, most combat aircraft in the U.S. inventory can perform this particular role, especially in a semi-permissive environment. It’s about being innovative and adjusting to the very unique situation we’ve found ourselves in,” said Lt. Col. J. “We can provide these effects while we are already accomplishing our core air dominance mission; it’s a win-win. It’s about using the capabilities you have and adapting them to help your team win the current fight.”

(Editor’s note: Due to security reasons, names were removed.)