These photos are quite interesting and show at least one Raptor that has dust/sand deposits most of its upper surfaces.
A dozen U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors belong to the 1st Fighter Wing at Joint Base Langley–Eustis in Virginia. deployed to the UAE, last month. The aircraft made a stopover at Moron Air Base in Spain and finally arrived at Al Dhafra on February 12, 2022.
A squadron F-22s was deployed to the Middle East by General Kenneth F. McKenzie (commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM),) who announced that the U.S. would send the 5th generation aircraft to the UAE to assist in defending the country from terrorist attacks by Houthi fighters.
Some photographs of the Raptors at work in the CENTCOM AOR (Area Of Responsibility) have been released in the last few weeks every now and then, but the ones that have recently been posted to the Pentagon’s Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, or DVIDS, website reveal the effect of just one month in the “sandpit” on the 5th generation aircraft.
Staff Sgt. Staff Sgt. Stefan Alvarez was aboard a KC-135 Stratotanker March 9, 2022. These photos show a U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor pilot assigned with the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing during aerial refueling as part OAS II (Operation Agile Spartan II).
A very dusty Raptor.
The 380th Air Expeditionary Wing US Air Force F-22 approaches a KC-135 above Southwest Asia on Mar. 9. F-22s took part in Operation Agile Spartan II, and carried out Agile Combat Employment concepts within the Central Command area. pic.twitter.com/UDO2egXk8r
— Ryan Chan 陳家翹 (@ryankakiuchan) March 14, 2022
As the images show, the silver skin of the U.S. Air Force’s premier fighter appears to be widely covered by dust/sand deposits on most of the aircraft upper surfaces. Although some photographs have shown the extent of weathering on the precious Radar-absorbent skin of the F-22 in the past, we have never seen so much dust accumulated on the jet’s coating as to be clearly visible to the naked eye.
The photographs don’t allow us to determine whether the sand/dust may have eroded the F-22’s coating, but we are pretty sure those particles are not too good for the delicate skin of the stealth aircraft.
“The aircraft’s outer mold-line is a mosaic of radar-absorbent coatings and radar transparent and radar defeating composite structures that combine to allow the Raptor to remain aerodynamically efficient while also largely invisible to fire control radars. All this takes a LotThese applications require a lot of maintenance and can become difficult to maintain. Friction from high-speed flight, crushing G force, and elements accelerates this process. As such, one of the costliest aspects of operating F-22s—and flying this aircraft is extremely expensive with an average flight hour cost of about $60k—is keeping its stealthy skin up to par,” wrote Tyler Rogoway in an articleThe Raptor’s extreme signs of corrosion were published by The War Zone2019
“For aircraft that aren’t headed into combat or high-end training scenarios, maintaining the jet’s stealthy skin isn’t as high of a priority. There are different standards of readiness for F-22 skins to be kept at depending on the situation, with its effectiveness slipping a certain percentage before needing time-consuming reapplication.”
The aircraft were actually operating from a forward operational location. They were there to perform deterrence missions. However considering the photo’s pose at the time, it seems very likely that LO was not required for this jet. It could still be safely flown and not have to undergo any cleaning or repairs.
According to the U.S. Air Force, the F-22 Raptors deployed to Al Dhafra, participated in Operation Agile Spartan II and conducted Agile Combat Employment concepts throughout the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, which showcased U.S. Air Force’s flexibility to operate from any location in a contested environment.
BTW, dealing with F-22 coatings, we have already reported about a kinda mysterious Nellis Air Force Base’s F-22 first caught on camera on Nov. 19, 2021, featuring a “mirror-like” coating, never seen before on a Raptor. As we have explained, the reflective metallic coating appears to cover most of the outer “skin” of the aircraft leaving very evident panel lines, including some saw tooth ones above and on the sides of the fuselage (typical of stealth aircraft), as well as some unusual curvilinear ones (on the wings in the flaps area). The reason for the so-called “Chrome” or “Mirror-like” coating, is probably related to some testing activity, on IRST (Infra Red Search & Track) technologies, targeting systems or laser weapons and countermeasures.