The Air Force wanted to send the F-22 to the Middle East and Defense Secretary Robert Gates nixed the plans, citing the strategic danger from the deployment if it were misread by Iran, among other factors. This comes from a single usually reliable source with knowledge of Air Force policy and operations.
Then-Air Force Secretary Mike Wynne sent a memo to Gates last December in which he made the recommendation, as well as laying out several major arguments for Air Force budget requests for the F-22 and bomber research and development, according to our source.
Central Command had approved the deployment request and we understand several Arab governments were also supportive of the Air Force effort. The main opposition to the request, we hear, came from Ryan Henry, principal deputy to the undersecretary of Defense for policy, who worried that Iran would interpret the deployment of the country’s most capable fighter as a regional escalation at a time when rumors were sweeping the region that the US was planning strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The argument for deployment of the sophisticated fighter was that the US needed to take the lead in the air war in the region. Right now, the United Arab Emirates deploys the most sophisticated fighter in the region, using the F-16 Block 60 50. Sending the F-22 would have allowed the US to field the world’s top fighter and provide ISR and targeting capabilities that no US or allied plane in the region currently posseses.
The Air Force wanted the F-22 deployed for the same sort of reasons that drove the service’s deciion to send B-2 bombers to Kosovo, to prove its effectiveness and demonstrate overwhelming US air superiority. A successful deployment — complete with videos of successful strikes and quotes from jubiliant air frews — might have led Congress and the public to support a substantial increase in the number of F-22s purchased. Gates has consistently resisted buying more than 200 F-22s while the Air Force has pushed hard to buy 350 planes at roughly $140 million per plane. Gates has said the F-22 is largely designed for war against a near-peer competitor such as China or Russia, not for use against insurgents or terrorists.