It’s not even September yet, but I’m already hailing this USA Today item as the feelgood story of the year.
Two American fighter pilots who intercepted Syrian combat jets over northern Syria last week said they came within 2,000 feet of the planes without the Syrians aware they were being shadowed.
The tense encounter occurred after Syrian jets dropped bombs near a U.S. adviser team with Kurdish forces in northern Syria. The Pentagon warned Syria that American forces were authorized to take action to defend its troops. Syrian aircraft haven’t dropped bombs in the area since then, and the U.S. military is no longer operating continuous combat patrols there.
“I followed him around for all three of his loops,” one of the American pilots, a 38-year-old Air Force major, told USA TODAY Wednesday in the first detailed account of the incident. “He didn’t appear to have any idea I was there.”
The two pilots asked that their names be withheld for security reasons.
“The behavior stopped,” said Brig. Gen. Charles Corcoran, commander of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, which conducts airstrikes in Iraq and Syria from an undisclosed location in this region. “We made our point.”
But wait — it gets better:
Friday’s incident, as described by commanders here, began in the afternoon, when a Syrian aircraft was spotted entering the airspace around Hasakah, and the pair of F-22s, already in the area, raced toward them.
The captain said he quickly got on a common radio frequency in an effort to reach the Syrian aircraft, asking the pilot to identify himself and state his intentions. There was no response.
U.S. commanders also contacted the Russians by phone to seek information, but the Russians were unaware of the Syrian action.
At that point the only way to get information was to have the American pilots approach the Syrian planes, Su-24 Fencers, to determine if they were armed or dropping bombs.
The American pilots asked permission to get closer to the Syrian aircraft to determine if they were carrying weapons on their wings or appeared to be attacking ground targets. Normally pilots are under orders to keep their distance from Russian or Syrian planes to avoid a miscalculation.
Permission was granted. One of the F-22s watched as the other maneuvered behind the Syrian aircraft to get a closer look. After about 15 minutes, the Syrian jet left the area, apparently unaware it was being followed.
Then our pilots did the exact same thing to a second — and equally clueless — Syrian Su-24 pilot.
But wait — it gets even better still:
“From now on if it happens, it’s get out to where they can visually see us,” Corcoran said.
In other words, the F-22 is so incredibly stealthy and our pilots are so adept at exploiting its strengths, that they aren’t having the desired deterrent effect against the Syrians.
So now they’re going to have to try to be seen.
It seems impossible that we didn’t build even 200 of these remarkable weapons systems.