An image of the US Airforce F-22 Raptor flying over Syria has surfaced on the social media. The picture was taken from the infrared targeting cameras of a Russian fighter jet. The image appeared on the Instagram account fighter_bomber_ with a little explanation that a Russian Sukhoi Su-35 multi-role fighter captured it. Su-35 is known by NATO as Flanker-E. The Su-35 is capable of both air-to-air and air-to-ground combat and is almost similar to a modernized F-15E Strike Eagle. It is also famous for some brilliant aerial maneuvers. According to the Instagram account owner, the image was taken with the Su-35’s OLS-35 infrared search and track (IRST) sensor. It is mounted forward of the cockpit. The OLS-35 consists of thermal imaging and TV cameras, a laser rangefinder, and a target designator.
The system installed is used to search for enemy aircraft by their heat signatures and then launch an infrared-guided air-to-air missile. The OLS-35 can detect fighter jets which are similar in size to the Su-35 from the rear at almost 56 miles and head on at 22 miles. The system can track up to four targets at the same time. The OLS-35 system is passive which means it emits electromagnetic radiation which can be picked up by the targeting aircraft, unlike a radar which is active and easier to detect. The OLS-35 ignores radar-based stealth so that a stealthy fighter jet and an unstealthy fighter jet are equally detectable.
Even if the image is real, it doesn’t reveal much. The aircraft in the photo appears to be an F-22 with its unique diamond-shaped wings. Any data shown in the OLS-35 display seems to be cropped out. A white block appears behind the F-22 that is perhaps put there to make the fighter jet stand out in the image. Lines showing in the image seems to be roads which indicate that Su-35 was above F-22. The OLS-35 is mounted above the nose of the Russian jet which also shows that Su-35 was diving down on the American stealth fighter. The post doesn’t mention where the picture was taken. One possibility is that it is in Syria where F-22 based at Al Dhafra in the UAE fly in proximity to Russian Su-35s based at Hmeimim air base, which is also present in Syria.
Another possibility is the incident of 13th September 2018 in which Raptors intercepted two Russian Tu-95MS strategic bombers, escorted by a pair of Su-35s near Alaska. It is hard to say if the image is real or not. However, the scenario it is depicting is not impossible. Russian and US fighters run into each other over Syria. At 71,500 square miles, Syria is a little larger than Oklahoma or Missouri. There are bound to be circumstances where a Su-35 is behind an F-22 and the detection range of the OLS-35 means that the Russian jet could have been almost sixty miles away. If the image is real, then it means that the F-22 is perfectly detectable by the Russian Aircraft with infrared sensors at specific ranges. This could also be a problem for the world’s first fifth-generation fighter.
The image is coming from a non-official source. Therefore, there are chances that it could easily be a fake. For now, it is only a discovery made in the world of social media where the scams are abundant in number, but sometimes some interesting and alarming information also surfaces through.