At a dinner in downtown Washington Thursday, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel touted the Pentagon’s deployment of advanced weaponry, including the Air Force F-22 Raptor, to the Middle East.
The stealthy fighters, as well other “high-end air, missile defense, and naval assets,” have been positioned in the region “to deter Iranian aggression and respond to other contingencies,” Hagel said during his remarks to The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
It just so happens that satellite imagery of those F-22s in the Middle East has popped up on Google Earth.
Five F-22s have turned up on satellite imagery at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates about 100 miles from Iranian territory. While it’s no secret the US has deployed the radar-evading Raptors to the Al Dhafra, this is the first time they have popped up on publicly available satellite imagery.
The satellite picture was taken about a year ago, however it appears to have been put on Google Earth in recent months.
An Air Forces Central Command spokeswoman based in the Middle East would not say whether the Raptors were still in the region. “We cannot confirm that they’re in the [area of responsibility],” she said.
In January, the Aviationist blog published pictures of six F-22s aerial refueling over Italy. The blog said the jets were flying from UAE back to the United States. It also reported that those F-22s were being replaced by six Raptors from a different wing.
The US military goes to great lengths not to disclose the location of Air Force assets in the region, mostly due to host nation sensitivity. That said, the Air Force has periodically released pictures of F-22s on the ground and training. Photo captions simply refer to the jets being in “Southwest Asia.”
In November, the Navy released a picture of a F/A-18 Hornet training with an F-22 in the “5th Fleet area of responsibility,” aka, somewhere in the Middle East. The Air Force sent the F-22s to the region about a year ago for what it described as a “routine security partnership deployment.”
The Google Earth images put the F-22s about 100 miles from Iranian waters and 140 miles from the Iranian mainland.
The stealthy jet can fly at speeds above Mach 2, according to an Air Force fact sheet, meaning it could reach the Iranian mainland is less than six minutes from Al Dhafra.
Al Dhafra is the premier UAE Air Force base. The US Air Force has built a strong relationship with its UAE counterparts and occasionally sends fighters to train at the Gulf Air Warfare Center there.
Just last month, the Pentagon announced UAE would buy another batch of advanced Block 60 F-16 fighters.