A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor flies over the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, March 14, 2022.

A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor flies over the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, March 14, 2022. U.S. Air Force / Staff Sgt. Jerreht Harris

US Rushes F-22s to Stop Russian Harassment Over Syria

Iran and Russia's efforts to push the U.S. out of the airspace include an aerial incident last week, Air Forces Central commander says.

Updated: June 15, 10:39 a.m.

As Russian planes continue to provoke U.S. fighter jets over Syria, the Air Force is sending F-22s to respond to aggression in the region. 

Russia continues to “pressure our presence,” despite the U.S.’s de-escalatory posture, Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, who leads Air Forces Central Command, said Wednesday during the annual Defense One Tech Summit.

In April, the general told Defense One that Russian warplanes had tried to bait U.S. jets into “dogfighting” over Syria. 

And just last week, Russia tried again to bait U.S. pilots, Grynkewich said.

But Russia can’t push the U.S. out of the airspace in the Middle East, Grynkewich said. He likened the country’s behavior to a gnat flying over your head: “It’s very frustrating and annoying sometimes, but in the end, it doesn't really matter.” 

The Air Force announced Wednesday it’s sending F-22s to the Middle East to track Russian aggression and improve “security and stability” in the region, according to the service.

“The Raptors, from Langley Air Force Base, Va.’s 94th Fighter Squadron, deployed to U.S. Central Command following a successful support mission [in] U.S. European Command, demonstrating the U.S.’ ability to re-posture forces and deliver capabilities at a moment’s notice,” the service said in a statement. 

In mid-March, a Russian Sukhoi fighter jet collided with an American MQ-9 drone over the Black Sea. Russia’s defense minister awarded medals to the pilots, which Grynkewich said encourages other Russian pilots to fly aggressively.

“For the life of me, I don't know why the Russians give a medal to someone who makes such an egregious mistake and has such a lack of airmanship. It reflects a decline in the professionalization of their air force, in my view, but they've done it,” he said.

The situation in the region is also driven by a “confluence of our adversaries,” now that Russia is buying drones from Iran, Grynkewich said.

“That dynamic, I think, has resulted in collusion, if you will, between the Russians and the Iranians, both of whom want to see us out of Syria. They're colluding with the Syrian regime and trying to push us out of Syria as quickly as they can. And for the life of me, I don't know why they've come off the reason that we're all actually there, which is to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS. That's a real threat. That's the real enemy to all of us. And that's what we ought to be focusing on in Syria. But for whatever reason, the Russians and the Iranians and others are coming off of that,” he said.

Later, a spokesperson for AFCENT added, “Since 2019, Russian aircraft have violated established air protocols, and we’ve seen an increase over the past several weeks. While the unprofessional and unsafe behavior varies from day to day and pilot to pilot, compared to behavior a year ago, Russian pilots have become significantly more unprofessional and unsafe in their attempts to challenge Coalition enduring defeat-Da’esh operations. Previously, Russian military leadership in Syria had been willing to comply with agreed upon deconfliction protocols.”

“Russian military unprofessional behavior,” the spokesperson said, “is generally all behavior that deviates from established deconfliction protocols. It ranges from violations of Coalition airspace to unsafe maneuvering around Coalition aircraft. These protocols were designed to establish norms of behavior leveraging notifications to deconflict airspace in order to effectively prosecute our enduring defeat-Da’esh operations. “

In a statement, Grynkewich also added this:

“Raptors out of Langley joined us in theater from a forward deployed location in Europe earlier this week. We brought them here due to increasingly unsafe and unprofessional behavior by Russian aircraft in the region and they’ve already flown missions over Syria. Our forces are always at the ready to surge when required on a moment’s notice, even across combatant command lines. I commend the F-22’s for the work they’ve done so far to reinforce US air superiority.

“Since the beginning of March, the Russia have been flying unprofessionally in our airspace over Syria. They’ve done this episodically since 2019 and they are undermining our efforts refusing to abide by our established protocols. They maneuver aggressively as opposed to following the rules we have established to stay a certain distance from us. They are maneuvering aggressively with live weapons on board and in the context of global events that is escalatory and entirely unprofessional.

“The U.S. remains committed to conducting operations in Syria to ensure the enduring defeat of Da’esh’s. Russia’s behavior is a distraction from our mission and poses a risk to US and Coalition forces. The deployment of our 5th-generation aircraft will provide increased capability in the face of Russian unprofessional behavior in the air.”

Sam Skove contributed to this report.