For years they were the highly-advanced aircraft without a mission, decried by critics as having been built from more than $80 billion in taxpayer dollars for an enemy that doesn’t exist. But now, more than a decade after the first jets went operational, the next-generation stealth F-22 Raptors are… still looking for that enemy, and settling for bombing militants in Syria and Iraq in the meantime.
The jets, some of the most sophisticated and priciest stealth fighter planes ever built, are not sitting out the Air Force’s latest aerial operations in Iraq and Syria, as they did in previous campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Since their maiden mission in September 2014, F-22s have been “operating regularly” in the anti-ISIS campaign and have dropped more than 200 bombs on targets in 150 sorties, according to the Air Force.
“We have generally been tasked to target and destroy Daesh [ISIS] training camps, vehicle-borne improvised explosive device manufacturing and storage facilities, fighting areas, various [ISIS] headquarters facilities and [ISIS-controlled] oil distribution capabilities,” Air Force Capt. Joseph Simms said in a statement provided to ABC News. “The F-22s have been instrumental in taking out a lot of high-value targets.”
But these missions are not the ones for which the air-to-air combat specialist F-22 was initially designed, and the Air Force acknowledges that the pricey planes don’t necessarily need to be the ones conducting them.