USAF Pilots Facing Complex, Threatening Environment in Syria

An F-22 Raptor receives fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 447th Air Expeditionary Group during a refueling mission over Syria, Dec. 1, 2017. Air Force photo by SSgt. Paul Labbe.

The airspace over Syria is an extremely complex operating environment that is growing even more complicated as Russia builds up its presence, but USAF pilots are prepared for any scenarios they might face, the head of Air Combat Command said Thursday.

Reports emerged Thursday that Russia had deployed Su-57 fifth-generation fighters to Syria, with videos reportedly showing two of the jets flying low in the west of the country.

ACC boss Gen. Mike Holmes said he had not seen and could not confirm these reports, but said a move like that “raises the level of complexity for our crews to deal with. The threat environment continues to increase,” Holmes said.

In addition to the types of aircraft operating, it is also a “compressed” environment with multiple actors flying. The US-led coalition has good situational awareness in the region, and “our guys continue to prep for scenarios they are deployed to face” to stay safe, he said.

The Air Force needs to look at how it can maintain its air superiority advantage in the future, including long-term efforts to develop more advanced air-to-air missiles so its pilots can protect themselves, he said.