Welsh: F-22 Flew to Drone's Rescue off Iran Coast

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Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh on Tuesday sketched out a dramatic tale of a lone F-22 Raptor chasing off Iranian fighter jets over the Arabian Gulf.

The confrontation is the first publicized engagement involving the Air Force's most modern fighter and military forces of Iran.

"When the combatant commander wants air power there is only one number to call," said Welsh, praising Lt. Col. Kevin "Showtime" Sutterfield.

"Showtime is an Air Force Reservist … he flies the F-22. He flies it really well," Welso said.

In March, an Iranian F-4 flew within 16 miles of an MQ-1 Predator flying off the coast of Iran until a previously undisclosed aircraft escorted the Predator to safety. It turns out that aircraft was an F-22, the Air Force's fifth generation fighter.

"Did you guys see the news clip not long ago about the Iranian F-4s that intercepted a remotely-piloted aircraft out over the Arabian Gulf, and then they were warned off?"

Welsh then displayed a picture of Sutterfield before a large audience of his fellow service members at the Air Force Association's Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition on Tuesday.

"This is the guy that warned them off," he said. "He flew under their aircraft to check out their weapons load without them knowing that he was there, and then pulled up on their left wing and then called them and said ‘you really ought to go home.'"

The successful performance of the F-22 comes after the Air Force was forced to repeatedly halt F-22 flights because F-22 pilots repeatedly reported blacking out from problems breathing.

The problem has been a challenge for the Air Force but not one that prevented the service from deploying an F-22 squadron in April of last year to the United Arab Emirates' Al Dafra Air Base, an installation located about 200 miles from the Iranian coast.

Air Force officials have not confirmed the exact location of the F-22s but have instead said they are located at a base in Southwest Asia -- a region that includes the UAE.  Last year, Air Force spokesperson Lt. Col. John Dorrian stressed that the F-22s were simply taking part in a scheduled deployment and were "not a threat to Iran."

Sutterfield's intercept of the Iranian jets was just one of many stories Welsh told of the courage, expertise and commitment Air Force personnel have shown over the last decade of conflict.

"I'll never worry; not while these guys are on our team," Welsh said. "I'm excited about the future. We've got some things to figure out, and we will figure them out."

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