The US Air Force has stepped up its presence in the Middle East to help combat the growing challenges arising from the activities of regional and international adversaries in the region, according to an American military chief.
Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, commander of the Ninth Air Force, said during a briefing on Wednesday, attended by Arab News, that the deployment this month of US F-22 Raptor fighters to the region was intended to provide extra strength in the face of any potential threats from Iran or Russia in Syria or elsewhere.
The Raptors, from the 94th Fighter Squadron based in Virginia, will integrate with existing coalition forces on the ground and in the air, he added.
“This deployment is intended, from the US side, to demonstrate our commitment to our partners and demonstrate the ability of the United States to bring in overwhelming combat power at a moment’s notice,” said Grynkewich.
It is also a show of force and deterrence in response to the Russian Air Force, which currently operates in Syrian airspace, he added.
Raptors escort many US regional partners during airborne missions, Grynkewich said. The US recently updated its National Defense Strategy in the Middle East, which has undergone a “paradigm shift” and now focuses on “interoperability, complex joint exercises and integration of weapons and values,” he added.
The Ninth Air Force is part of US Central Command, which counts the Middle East as part of its area of responsibility. Central Command and the Saudi Armed Forces recently conducted a multilateral military exercise, “Eagle Resolve,” along with the armed forces of other Gulf Cooperation Council member states.
Grynkewich described the US-Saudi military relationship as “strong.” He said he often meets his counterparts from the Kingdom to discuss ways in which military ties and regional coordination can be enhanced.
He described the recent agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran to normalize diplomatic relations as a “positive” development in efforts to defuse tensions in the region.
“I think there is a lot of good when countries are talking to each other and when they have diplomatic relations; it will provide avenues to resolve their differences,” said Grynkewich. “That sort of rapprochement and reconciliation, in my view, is always welcome.”
As part of US efforts to integrate military forces in the region with its own missions and weapons systems, he said American forces have conducted important exercises that used Join Direct Attack Munition GBU-38 heavy bombs and, for the first time in live training missions with partners, the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, a long-range, 1,000lb cruise missile.
Grynkewich added that US forces remain committed to the fight against Daesh in the region, as the group still has operational capabilities in some parts of Syria and Iraq.
The F-22 Raptor is one of the most advanced fifth-generation tactical fighters, which combines stealth and bombing capabilities.