Russian fighter pilot says he beat an F-22 in a mock dogfight and locked onto it, but Pentagon throws cold water on claims

f-22 f22 raptor inherent resolve arabian seaA US Air Force F-22 Raptor flies over the Arabian Sea in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, Jan. 27, 2016.US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook

  • An unofficial account of a Russian pilot of the Su-35, Russia's top jet fighter, posted pictures claiming to show a US F-22 Raptor stealth jet flying above Syria as proof that his older, bigger jet can kill it.
  • The Su-35 pilot said it locked on to the F-22 in a mock fight in which the "arrogant" US pilot lost. 
  • Even if the pictures are real, it doesn't prove the Su-35 has any combat advantage over the F-22.
  • The Pentagon told Business Insider it had heard nothing of the incident, casting doubt on Russia's trustworthiness in these matters. 

An unofficial account of a retired Russian pilot of an Su-35, Russia's top jet fighter, posted pictures claiming to show a US F-22 Raptor stealth jet flying in the skies above Syria as proof that his older, bigger jet can outflank it.

The picture shows an F-22 in flight on what looks broadly like an image produced by an infrared search and track (IRST) system, which the Su-35 houses in its nose cone area and looks for heat, not radar cross section, potentially helping it find stealth aircraft at close ranges.

The pilot claims to have spotted the F-22, which has all-aspect stealth and is virtually invisible to traditional radars, during combat operations in Syria.

After describing at length how these encounters usually go (there are dedicated lines of communication used to avoid conflict between Russia and the US as they operate in close proximity over Syria), the author claims to have "locked" on to the F-22.

A Business Insider translation of part of the caption reads: "F-22 was arrogant and was punished after a short air battle, for which of course it got f-----."

Russia has long mocked the US's stealth jets and claimed its ability to defeat them in combat. But while Russia can spot US stealth jets by looking for heat, and not radar signature, that's very different from being able to shoot them down. 

Even if the images posted by the Russians are genuine, "it doesn't alone suggest that the Su-35S is reliably capable of detecting and intercepting the F-22," Justin Bronk, an air combat expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider.

"Furthermore, the F-22 will have been aware of the Su-35's presence since the latter took off so it isn't really any indication of a diminishment of the F-22's combat advantage," he said.

F-22 raptor thermal imageNPAS Filton

"IRST systems can be used to detect and potentially track stealth aircraft under specific conditions," Bronk said. But that "doesn't mean that they are anything approaching a satisfactory solution to the problem of fighting against such targets as they have limited range compared to radar, and are vulnerable to environmental disruption and degradation," he added.

In essence, he said, an F-22 would have seen the Su-35 long before the Russians saw the American, and the S-35 likely only spotted the F-22 because it flew up close in the first place. 

Bronk previously described looking for fifth-generation aircraft in the open skies with IRST as being like "looking through a drinking straw." 

Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon told Business Insider that he was "unable to verify the claims made on Instagram," but pointed out that "Russia has been conducting a concentrated disinformation campaign in Syria to sow confusion and undercut US and allied efforts there."

US pilots can tell when their jets have been targeted by enemy weapons, so they would know if the Su-35 pilot established the "lock" he had claimed to. 

Russian media has since picked up the Instagram story, running it with analysis that suggests the Su-35 may be able to defeat the F-22. 

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