F-22s Warn, Chase Off Russian Jets in Syria

An F-22 receives fuel from a KC-10 in southwest Asia in August 2017. Air Force photo by SrA Preston Web.

Two F-22s intercepted Russian aircraft that entered a restricted area in Syria on Wednesday, firing warning flares before the jets left the area.

Two Russian Su-25s crossed a “de-confliction line” established by the US and Russia near Abu Kamal to keep their ground forces separate near the Euphrates River. The jets were then “promptly intercepted” by F-22s that were providing air cover for partner ground forces in the area, Air Forces Central Command spokesman Lt. Col Damien Pickart said in a statement.

The F-22 “conducted multiple maneuvers to persuade the Su-25s to depart out conflicted airspace” including the release of chaff and flares “in close proximity” to the Russian jets, Pickart said. At one point, a Russian jet flew so close to an F-22 that it had to “aggressively maneuver” to avoid a collision, he said.

The incident lasted about 40 minutes, and US officials contacted Russian officials via an established de-confliction line, Pickart said.

It is the latest in a serious of incidents involving Russian aircraft in the area. Russian jets have crossed the line six to eight times per day in November. No weapons have been fired by aircraft from either country so far.

“It has become increasingly tough for our pilots to discern whether Russian pilots’ actions are deliberate or if these are honest mistakes,” Pickart said. “The coalition’s greatest concern is that we could shoot down a Russian aircraft because its actions are seen as a threat to our air or ground forces.”

Russian officials have accused US aircraft of violating the deconfliction area as well, with Ministry of Defense officials telling state media claiming F-22s have prevented Russian jets from attacking ISIS.

This summer, there were repeated incidents between US aircraft and jets in the restricted areas. In June, a US Navy F/A-18 shot down a Syrian Air Force Su-22 that dropped bombs near US-backed forces. During the same time period, USAF F-15Es shot down two drones that were also flying in the area.

F-22s fly regularly in Syria, protecting coalition aircraft and also conducting airstrikes as part of Operation Inherent Resolve.