Spotted—U.S. Air Force’s Fighter-Bomber in Iraq
Video seems to show F-15E over Al Anbar
On Aug. 8, U.S. Navy F/A-18F jet fighters from the carrier USS George H.W. Bush launched the first American strikes against Islamic State militants in northern Iraq. Exactly one month later, U.S. warplanes have struck Islamic State more than 100 times.
The Pentagon is cloaking the aerial campaign in increasing layers of secrecy. On Aug. 19, the Air Force stopped identifying its own planes that are involved in the bombing raids—ostensibly in order to provide plausible deniability to the Muslim countries where the Air Force planes are based.
But now thanks to an amateur video, we strongly suspect that Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles—most likely flying from Al Udeid in Qatar—are bombing Islamic State. The two-seat, twin-engine F-15Es probably belong to the 48th Fighter Wing, whose permanent base is Lakenheath in the United Kingdom.
The blurry and shaky video, uploaded to Youtube on Sept. 7, depicts what is most likely an F-15 in a dark color scheme, matching the F-15E’s profile. According to War Is Boring contributor David Cenciotti, the video was shot in Rawat in Iraq’s Al Anbar province.
Islamic State control much of Al Anbar, which is situated in Iraq’s arid west.
The Boeing-made Strike Eagle is the Air Force’s workhorse fighter-bomber, owing to its two crew, a heavy bombload and enough fuel capacity to fly hundreds of miles without aerial refueling. The flying branch possesses more than 200 of the supersonic fighters and is upgrading them with new radars and weapons.
All together, the Air Force has eight frontline F-15E squadrons—six belonging to Air Combat Command in the continental U.S. and two with the 48th Fighter Wing in the U.K., part of U.S. European Command.
In an official history from 2011, Air Combat Command revealed how busy its own Strike Eagle units are. “Of the six F-15E squadrons, three were deployed to three different forward operating locations,” the command stated. “This demand required investment to meet ‘small war’ requirements while maintaining aircraft availability for future large-force combat operations.”
The three operating locations that Air Combat Command mentioned are probably Qatar, Djibouti and Afghanistan.
Strike Eagle secrecy
The F-15E is a variant of the 1970s-vintage F-15 air-to-air fighter. It’s neither new nor particularly sensitive technology. But weirdly, the F-15E has been the subject of surprising efforts to obscure its deployments.
Starting in 2002, the Air Force deployed eight Strike Eagles to an air base in Djibouti in order to launch air strikes on suspected Al Qaeda operatives in East Africa and Yemen. The flying branch openly celebrated the F-15Es’ operations … for a time.
But as the war on terror dragged on and America’s allies grew weary of hosting U.S. forces, the Air Force stopped mentioning the F-15Es in Djibouti—even though they remained very active, frequently dropping bombs on terrorists across the region.
In 2012, Cenciotti pieced together documentary and photographic evidence to confirm the F-15Es’ continuing presence in Djibouti. Now the Air Force has two secretive Strike Eagle operations—one each in East Africa and the Middle East.
But America isn’t the only Strike Eagle operator. Israel, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Singapore also fly the type. And Singapore has tried to cover up its acquisitions in order to obscure the exact number of F-15Es it possesses.
The tiny but wealthy Asian country acknowledged purchasing 24 Strike Eagles, but managed to keep secret the procurement of at least an additional eight—until military trade organization Jane’s found evidence of the extra planes.
The efforts to mask the F-15Es’ ops is indicative of governments’ eagerness to be able to go to war without talking about going to war. The relative ease with which journalists and Youtube users have spotted the warplanes is a healthy reminder that, when it comes to warfare, secrecy rarely endures.