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    Stealth and Surprise: The F-22 Raptor’s Monumental Escort Mission with Iranian F-4 Phantoms

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    In 2013, an incident that could have been lifted straight out of a Cold War spy novel unfolded in the skies when a U.S. Air Force MQ-1 Predator drone found itself under the unexpected guardianship of an F-22 Raptor against Iranian F-4 Phantom IIs. This aerial encounter, which occurred in the aftermath of an unsuccessful attempt by Iranian Sukhoi Su-25s to down another Predator, illustrates a stark mismatch in aerial warfare capabilities and underscores the stealthy prowess of the Raptor.

    The episode began with a seemingly routine surveillance mission by the MQ-1 Predator drone. What the Iranian pilots did not anticipate as they set out in their antiquated F-4 Phantoms—a fighter with roots in the 1960s—was the stealth escort provided by not one, but two F-22 Raptors. The Raptors, operating undetected, escorted the Predator and positioned themselves advantageously against the Iranian aircraft, which were hopelessly outclassed both technologically and strategically.

    In a move akin to a scene from “Top Gun,” a Raptor performed a maneuver displaying not only its stealth but also its pilot’s boldness. The F-4s were outmatched – according to most reports of this event, the Iranians seemed completely unaware of the fifth-generation fighters’ presence. One Raptor even passed beneath the Iranian aircraft, identified the armament of the F-4, then ascended beside its left wing to assert its presence, transmitting to the Iranians, “You really should head home.” This brief radio exchange highlighted the undeniable superiority of the F-22, As previously reported by The National Interest’s Eli Fuhrman, “The incident demonstrates the impressive stealth characteristics of the Raptor, which was able to approach the two Iranian fighters undetected and scout out their arsenals, before scaring them off.”

    Despite only having 186 operational F-22 airframes, as reported by Harrison Kass, the Raptors continue to dominate the skies, drawing comparisons to their counterparts. For instance, the F-35 Lightning II, while technologically advanced and versatile in its own right, was never intended to be a dogfighting powerhouse like the F-22. As former Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh once articulated, the F-22 was designed for air superiority, while the F-35 was envisioned as a multipurpose, data-integration platform.

    The F-22 surpasses the F-35 in speed – MACH 2.2 compared to MACH 1.6 for the Lightning II. Although 30 percent heavier, the F-22 could be more agile thanks to its Pratt & Whitney F119 engines offering greater thrust (70,000 pounds) than the sole Pratt & Whitney F-135 engine on the F-35. The thrust vectoring of the F119 engine might further enhance the Raptor’s advantage in aerial battles with a superior thrust-to-weight ratio.

    Chicago, Illinois, USA – August 21, 2016: The Chicago Air and Water Show, F-35 Lightning II performing a high speed pass during the airshow

    Iran’s reliance on the F-4 Phantom, an aircraft first introduced during the Cold War, is emblematic of a broader issue within its air force—its inventory’s outdated nature. Despite efforts to enhance these aging platforms with domestic upgrades like the Qased 900kg electro-optic guided smart bombs, they simply cannot match next-generation counterparts. The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) aptly notes the Phantom’s primary role as an attack aircraft, even as it is outstripped by modern air defenses.

    View of a F-4 Phantom reconnaissance aircraft

    A report from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) suggests that the Iranian Air Force focuses on missions such as air intercept, ground attack, and close air support. Some of their aircraft are capable of mid-air refueling. The DIA highlights that Iran relies on the outdated F-4 as its main attack aircraft. The report mentions that Iran may use its regional proxies and limited air strike capability to target an adversary’s critical infrastructure for long-range strikes. While Iran’s F-4 Phantoms could be deployed against regional foes, they are considered less effective against modern air defenses compared to contemporary combat aircraft.

    Military Tank in the museum under the open sky,open show.

    Iran’s F-4 Phantoms, even with homegrown enhancements, stand little chance against a foe as advanced as the F-22 Raptor. The U.S. Air Force’s mastery of the skies, facilitated by its fleet of stealth aircraft, continues to hold significant implications for air superiority and national security.

    related images you might be interested.

    LEEUWARDEN, THE NETHERLANDS -MAY 26: F-35 fighter during it’s first test in Europe on May 26, 2016 in Leeuwarden. It is the world’s most advanced multi-role fighter.
    View of a F-4 Phantom reconnaissance jet
    Singapore – Feb 12, 2020. USAF Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor flying for display in Changi, Singapore. Defense costs are increasing, especially in East Asia.
    CAMP SPRINGS, MD, USA – SEPTEMBER 19, 2015: The F-22 performs during the 2015 Joint Base Andrews Air Show held at Joint Base Andrews in Camp Springs Maryland.

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