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F-22 Raptors deployed to Middle East amid concerns of Russian aircraft behavior

The F-22 Raptor fighter plane at Langley Air Force Base in Langley, Va, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2006. (Michael Ainsworth/Dallas Morning News/TNS)
June 15, 2023

U.S. Central Command announced Wednesday that the military has deployed F-22 Raptors to the Middle East amid concerns that Russian aircraft are engaging in “increasingly unsafe and unprofessional behavior.”

According to a press release by Central Command, the move is part of a “multifaceted show of U.S. support and capability” in response to the behavior of Russian aircraft in the Middle East region.

“Russian Forces’ unsafe and unprofessional behavior is not what we expect from a professional air force. Their regular violation of agreed upon airspace deconfliction measures increases the risk of escalation or miscalculation,” Gen. Michael Kurilla, commander of CENTCOM, said. “Alongside our partners and allies, we are committed to improving the security and stability in the region.” 

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Central Command’s concern regarding Russian aircraft in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, has been ongoing since March. On March 16, Kurilla told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Russian aircraft had flown aircraft with loaded weapons over U.S. bases in the region “in an attempt to try and be provocative.”

When Kurilla was questioned about the Russian flights over U.S. bases, he said, “It’s not new, but we have seen a significant spike since about 1 March in Syria.”

In a recent interview with Stars and Stripes, Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, head of U.S. Air Forces Central, said, “They’re not operating like a professional air force anymore.”

Grynkewich explained that the top priority of Air Forces Central is to “protect our troops,” adding that avoiding “escalation” is the next closest priority.

The United States currently has about 900 troops deployed in Syria in an effort to prevent the resurgence of the Islamic State. While both the United States and Russia support efforts to defeat ISIS, the two countries support opposing Syrian forces.

Stars and Stripes reported that the United States recently accused Russia of violating protocols 85 times from March to May, including 26 “armed overflights.” The protocols involve various agreements made between the United States and Russia to avoid escalation in Syria due to the two countries supporting the opposing Syrian forces.

In its Wednesday press release, Central Command noted that the “rapid deployment and integration” of the F-22 Raptors to the Middle East is a “clear demonstration” of the level of commitment that is shared by the United States and its allies and partners to achieve “long-term peace and stability” in the Middle East.

Grynkewich recently explained that Russia is not being responsive to U.S. complaints of protocol violations.

“They’re not reciprocating as they used to, so deconfliction doesn’t work,” he said. “Then your next best bet is to make sure that you’re in a position to defend yourself.”