The U.S. has deployed its most advanced stealth jet fighters to an allied base only 200 miles from Iran's mainland. F-22 Raptors that have never been tested under combat conditions are now stationed at the Al Dafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates.
The Al Dafra base, according to ABC News, is only 800 miles from Tehran, within the range of the F-22, which can travel at one and a half times the speed of sound. Wired.com reports the U.S. has been quietly assembling a powerful air-to-air fighting team at bases near Iran. Before the F-22s were deployed, the Air Force deployed the Massachusetts Air National Guard’s 104th Fighter Wing, with 20 F-15Cs, to Southwest Asia.
ABC News reports Air Force spokesperson, Lt. Col. John Dorrian, would not confirm the exact location of the fighters but said they had been deployed to a base in Southwest Asia. He claimed, however, that the fighter jets were only involved in a "scheduled deployment" and that they are "no threat to Iran." Aviation Week reports that a statement by service spokesman Capt. Phil Ventura, said: “The United States Air Force has deployed F-22s to Southwest Asia. Such deployments strengthen military-to-military relationships, promote sovereign and regional security, improve combined tactical air operations and enhance interoperability of forces, equipment and procedures."
Dorrian also would not say exactly what the mission of the F-22 jets was and he would not say how many jets were deployed for operational security reasons. But according to Dorrian, with its "next generation capabilities," any number of the jets deployed is significant.
The jets have been officially combat operational since 2005 but were not used in Iraq or in Afghanistan.
According to ABC News, Jeff Babione, Lockheed Martin's vice president for the F-22 program, said the fighters could be used in "deep penetration strike missions in well-defended combat zones inside places like North Korea or Iran." An aviation industry expert told Aviation Week: “The F-22 is unlike any other fighter in the world and our friends and potential adversaries know it. When we deployed the F-22s to Guam and Japan, everybody in Asia and the Pacific paid attention.”
Although Air Force officials say the plane has not been used in operations because it hasn't been needed, ABC News reports pilots have complained of "hypoxia-like symptoms" during flights. The jets were grounded for five months to investigate the problem.
One of the pilots of the plane Jeff Haney, was killed in a crash during a training mission in Alaska in 2010. His oxygen supply was cut off shortly before the crash and the reason why this happened is still being investigated.
In spite of these major problems, Air Force Maj. Gen. Noel Jones, Director of Operational Capability Requirements, said at a Pentagon briefing in March: "If our nation needs a capability to enter contested air space, to deal with air forces that are trying to deny our forces the ability to maneuver without prejudice on the ground, it will be the F-22 that takes on that mission. It can do that right now and is able to do that without hesitation."