The American response reportedly could come in the form of deployment of the most capable Western combat jet ever developed, the F-22 Raptor, a squadron of which are currently based at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates within range of Syrian targets.
While F-22 has already flown several sorties over Syria alongside the older and lighter F-16CJ – the latter serving an interim supporting role until its replacement the F-35A becomes fully operational – this would be the first time that the Raptors would be used to directly target Syrian government positions, or those of any state entity for that matter.
While the S-300PMU-2 remains well within its limits to counter fourth generation fighters such as the F-16, and other older U.S. designs such as the F-15E deployed by Israel, its ability to threaten America’s most capable and survivable radar evading combat jet, the F-22, remains in serious question.
While slower, less stealthy and lower flying stealth jets such as the F-117 and F-35 are potentially at risk when operating within range of the S-300PMU-2, the Raptor’s combination of a high altitude, high speed and extreme manoeuvrability with an unmatched radar evading stealth profile means that the fighter remains ideally suited to countering the Russian made air defence system.
The S-300PMU-2, unlike the more modern and capable S-300V4 and S-400 deployed by the Russian military, notably lack the latest counter stealth capabilities and hypersonic missiles which give newer surface to air missile platforms a critical edge over the Raptor. The F-22 thus may be deployed in response to the threat posed by Syria’s acquisition of the missile platform – which particularly threatens the position of neighbouring Israel by limiting its air force’s freedom to operate in Syrian airspace.
While Israel lacks an analogue to the Raptor, an American strike on the S-300 using its air force’s unique asset would be invaluable in facilitating future Israeli strikes on Syrian positions – thus ensuring that the balance of power in skies over the country remain favourable to both Washington and Tel Aviv.
While originally conceptualised as an air superiority fighter, with a specialised strike variant, the FB-22, planned to fulfil a complementary strike role, the F-22 has since been modified to itself carry out air to ground missions. The Raptor has since been used to carry out precision strikes on Islamic State and Taliban targets in Iraq and Afghanistan respectively, and while they are not specialised in this role they remain more than capable of carrying it out.
The Raptor’s advanced sensors paired with either GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs and other precision guided munitions makes it an potentially highly lethal strike platform, though due to the lack of depth of its interim bomb bays relative to the F-35 it cannot deploy higher payload or penetrative munitions. Whether the United States will resume F-22 overflights of Syrian territory in response to the S-300’s deployment, signalling Damascus that it remains ready to respond to potential provocations, thus remains a considerable possibility.