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USAF moves Raptors to Saudi Arabia

23 October 2019
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US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper talks to pilots in front of an F-22 Raptor at Prince Sultan Air Base on 22 October. Source: Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs

The US Air Force has deployed F-22 Raptor stealth fighters to Prince Sultan Air Base (PSAB) in central Saudi Arabia.

An F-22 was seen making a low pass over the base in a video clip tweeted by US Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT) on 22 October.

"The ability of fighter jets to operate at locations like PSAB demonstrates AFCENT and CENTCOM [Central Command] commitment to providing a credible, capable, and dynamic defence posture in the Middle East," it said.

Two Raptors were also seen on the ground at the base in photographs taken during a visit by US Defense Secretary Mark Esper on 22 October. They were next to clamshell aircraft hangars that could not be seen in open-source satellite imagery of PSAB in June, indicating temporary structures have been erected to support the deployment.

One of the Raptors (157) was previously seen deployed to Al Udeid Air Base in July along with elements from the 1st Fighter Wing and 192nd Wing.

Esper was seen meeting four pilots, three of whom were wearing badges of the 27th Fighter Squadron, part of the 1st Fighter Wing.

A fourth pilot was wearing the badge of Electronic Attack Squadron 134 (VAQ-143), a US Navy EA-18G Growler unit. Other personnel - many of them from the US Navy - were identified as aircraft maintainers, suggesting naval aircraft have been deployed to PSAB.

The US military returned to PSAB in July, when a Patriot air defence battery was deployed there as part of a wider effort to deter Iran. At the time, US officials briefed journalists that US personnel were preparing the base to handle US fighter jets. They said PSAB provides the "defensive depth" beyond the range of Iranian missiles.

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