The Russian Ministry of Defense released a barrage of statements to state-owned media outlets this week, claiming that an American F-22 fighter was chased away from Russian bombing runs in Syria by the Kremlin’s advanced Su-35s fighter. There’s just one problem: according to U.S. officials in CENTCOM, this first interaction between these two storied fighters never took place at all.
According to Russian officials, a single U.S. F-22 intercepted two Russian Su-25 close air support aircraft as they were conducting bombing runs on ISIS targets west of the Euphrates on November 23rd. Their statements go on to claim that the F-22 was attempting to prevent the Su-25s from continuing their runs by “simulating” a dog fight.
“The F-22 launched decoy flares and used airbrakes while constantly maneuvering [near the Russian strike jets], imitating an air fight,” Major General Igor Konashenkov told the Kremlin-backed RT, an outlet that recently had to register as a foreign agent in the United States. According to the general, the F-22 then broke off its engagement and ran off when the more modern Su-35s joined their older counterparts.
Per the statements of the general, the F-22’s actions were “just another example” of American forces protecting ISIS militants, a claim the Kremlin has levied on a number of occasions. Recently, the Kremlin released a video they claimed “proved” the U.S. was working to support ISIS in Syria, only to have the footage exposed as fake almost immediately.
The general claimed that “most close-midair encounters between Russian and US jets in the area around the Euphrates River have been linked to the attempts of U.S. aircraft to get in the way [of the Russian warplanes] striking against Islamic State terrorists.”
There has been a great deal of speculation regarding how the Su-35, a heavily updated and extremely maneuverable fighter, would fare against the stealth F-22. Although the F-35 is often touted as the most advanced combat aircraft in the world, there’s little question that the F-22 is a more competent dog fighter, as the slower F-35 relies on engaging targets from a greater distance. This interaction, however brief, would have been the first time these legendary aircraft met in the air – and Syria has already been the scene of more than one air-to-air encounter involving American fighters. In June, a U.S. Navy F-18 Super Hornet shot down a Syrian Su-22 jet, which is a predecessor to the Su-35. American jets have also shot down drones over Syria on more than one occasion.
However, according to U.S. officials, the Russian account of this historic interaction is entirely false. Further, the CENTCOM statement refutes the idea that an American aircraft would cross the Euphrates without first deconflicting with Russian officials. However, they do go on to point out that on the same day of the Russian’s claims of air superiority, Russians crossed over the deconfliction line nine times without once making contact with Coalition officials. The CENTCOM statement reads:
There is no truth to this allegation. According to our flight logs for Nov 23, 2017, this alleged incident did not take place, nor has there been any instance where a Coalition aircraft crossed the river without first deconflicting with the Russians via the deconfliction phone line set up for this purpose. Of note, on Nov 23, 2017, there were approximately nine instances where Russian fighter aircraft crossed to the east side of the Euphrates River into Coalition airspace without first using the deconfliction phone. This random and unprofessional activity placed Coalition and Russian aircrew at risk, as well as jeopardizing Coalition ability to support partner ground forces in the area.
Any claims that the Coalition would protect Daesh, or hinder, a strike against Daesh are completely false. We strike them hard wherever they are found. What we can tell you is that we actively deconflict the airspace in Syria with the Russians to ensure the enduring defeat of Daesh in the region. We will continue to work with our SDF partners, just as we will continue to deconflict with the Russians for future Coalition strikes against Daesh targets in Syria.”
Feature image of F-15s intercepting MiG-29s in 1989 courtesy of Wikimedia Commons