F-22 jet sunset
© Flickr/ US Air Force
US Air Force Central Command has altered its account of the aircraft and missile systems used during April 14's airstrikes, sowing more confusion among defense observers.

F-22 Raptors "played an integral role" during last Saturday's attack in Syria, US. Air Force Central Command spokesman Capt. Mark Graff has said, according to the Air Force Times.

Last week, Joint Staff director Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told reporters that since US air assets did not enter Syria's air defense zone, F-22s were not used to accompany bombers. He also reported that the US's B1-B bombers launched 19 of its new JASSM-ER cruise missile, making it the first time the new but troublesome Lockheed Martin standoff weapon was deployed.

However, in a press briefing on Thursday, McKenzie corrected his account, saying he "misspoke" about the JASSM-ER, which has a 1000 km+ range and a 450 kg warhead. Instead, he said, standard JASSMs were used. These have an operational range of 370 km, and first entered into service in 2009, as opposed to the JASSM-ER, which was only approved for combat use in February of this year.
JASSM missile model
JASSM missile model
As for the F-22s, Capt. Graff said that the fifth-gen fighters did participate in the operation after all, but only indirectly, "protecting ground forces during and after the multinational strikes..."

According to Graff, the F-22's "unique fifth-generation capabilities" made it "the only airframe suited to operate inside the Syrian integrated air defense system [IADS]." This, he said, offered the air force "an option with which to neutralize IADS threats to our forces and installations in the region, and provide protective air support for US, coalition and partners on the ground."
US Air Force Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor stealth fighter aircraft is parked inside a hangar
© AFP 2018 / SAUL LOEB
A US Air Force Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor stealth fighter aircraft is parked inside a hangar
Graff's comments on the use of the F-22s' use for ground support were themselves contradicted by Lt. Gen. McKenzie's Thursday remarks. Unable to confirm whether or not the planes were used, McKenzie said that the fighters were used only as part of an "integrated package" to protect bombers. "No fighter aircraft penetrated further than where B-1s actually launched the JASSMs and turned away," he said.

It's unclear why Pentagon officials did not initially disclose the role played by the F-22, and what accounts for the conflicting reports regarding their use. In briefings following the strikes, media reports were limited mostly to stories about the use of F-15 and F-16 fighters. The Russian Defense Ministry reported on the use of the latter planes in its briefing last Saturday, hours after the attack. Furthermore, some Russian media also reported on the F-22s' use as support aircraft for the B-1Bs.

US defense news resources however, complained for the most part about the F-22s' being "once again left on the combat sidelines."

The US, the UK and France fired over 100 sea- and air-launched cruise missiles into Syria on the morning of Saturday, April 14. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, Syria used its mostly Soviet-era air defense systems, including the Buk S-125, and the S-200 SAM systems, to blunt the attack, shooting down just shy of 70% of the missiles fired.

The US and its allies initiated the April 14 attack following an alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, Eastern Ghouta which was immediately blamed on Damascus. Syrian and Russian officials have come to characterize the 'chemical attack' as a false flag used as a pretext to launch the US-led strikes.