- US Air Force F-22 Raptors have returned to US Central Command to “defend American forces and interests,” US Air Forces Central Command said in a statement on Friday.
- After years of constant deployments to the region, the F-22s were pulled out earlier this year, with F-15C Eagles taking over for the fifth-generation stealth fighters.
- While the specific purpose of the deployment is unclear, it comes at a time of heightened tensions between Iran, a time when US troops, equipment, and military assets are increasingly moving into the region to confront Iran.
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US F-22 stealth fighters have returned to the Middle East to “defend American forces and interests” at a time of high tension with Iran, although it is unclear whether the advanced air-superiority fighters have been deployed as part of the ongoing deterrence mission or for some other purpose.
An unspecified number of US Air Force F-22 Raptors arrived in the US Central Command area of responsibility on Thursday, flying into Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, US Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT) said in a statement on Friday.
This is the first time these fifth-generation fighters have flown into Qatar, as they have previously operated out of Al Dhafra in the United Arab Emirates, where a collection of US Air Force F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters is deployed.
The Aviationist’s David Cenciotti, citing sources, reported that nine F-22s with the 192nd Fighter Wing of the Virginia Air National Guard from the Joint Base Langley-Eustis have flown into the region with at least three more expected to follow at a later point in time.
Photos of the aircraft flying in formation showed at least five fighters.
The US Air Force deployed F-15C Eagles to the Middle East earlier this year to replace F-22s after years of regular deployments to the region.
“There are currently no F-22s deployed to AFCENT, but the United States Air Force has deployed F-15Cs to Southwest Asia,” AFCENT told Air Force Magazine in March. “US Air Force aircraft routinely rotate in and out of theatre to fulfil operational requirements, maintain air superiority, and protect forces on the ground.”
But now these unmatched air assets are back in the region, and their arrival, likely part of a routine deployment, comes as US troops, weapons, and equipment are increasingly moving into the CENTCOM area of responsibility to deter possible Iranian aggression.
As sanctions crippled the Iranian economy, intelligence reports pointing to the possibility of Iranian attacks led the US military to send the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East to confront Iran.
Those assets were followed by more naval vessels, air- and missile-defence batteries, and thousands of additional troops.
Last week, Iranian forces shot down a US Navy drone, a serious escalation in the wake of a string of attacks on tankers, which Iranian forces were accused of carrying out.
Although the US was prepared to retaliate with airstrikes on Iranian positions, President Donald Trump said he called off the attack at the last minute, arguing that taking life in response to an attack on an unmanned system would be a disproportionate.
But after Iranian leadership issued a statement insulting the White House, Trump changed his tune. “Any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force. In some areas, overwhelming will mean obliteration,” Trump tweeted earlier this week.
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