The United States has deployed F-22 stealth fighters to Qatar for the first time, its military said, adding to a buildup of US forces in the Gulf amid tensions with Iran.
The Air Force F-22 Raptor stealth fighters have been deployed “to defend American forces and interests”, the US Air Forces Central Command said in a statement on Friday.
It did not specify how many of the hi-tech planes had been sent.
A photo handout showed five of the jets flying above the Al Udeid Airbase in Qatar.
Tehran and Washington have been locked in an escalating standoff since US PresidentDonald Trumpunilaterally withdrew from a multi-party 2015 nuclear deal withIranand reimposed sanctions on the Islamic republic.
Tensions spiked last week when Iran shot down a US drone over sensitive Gulf waters following a series of tanker attacks that Washington blamed on Tehran, which has denied involvement.
Since then the arch-foes have been locked in a war of words, which escalated this week when Trump announcednew sanctionsagainst Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Iran has threatened to abandon some of its commitments under the nuclear deal unless the remaining partners – the United Kingdom, China, France, Germany and Russia – help it circumvent US sanctions and let it sell its oil.
In May, the US Air Force deployed several nuclear-capable B-52 Stratofortress bombers to the Gulf in response to what the Defense Department described as a possible plan by Iran to attack US forces in the region, as well as an aircraft carrier task force.
The F-22 was created as the replacement of the successful F-15 Eagle in the early 2000s. The US Air Force claims it “cannot be matched by any known or projected fighter aircraft”.
Costing about $150m apiece, the F-22 Raptor is a fifth-generation, single-seat, twin-engine fighter jet, designed primarily as an air superiority fighter, but also has ground attack and signal intelligence capabilities.
Lockheed Martin, the prime manufacturer, built most of the F-22’s airframe and weapons systems and conducted final assembly, while Boeing provided the wings, fuselage, avionics integration, and training systems.
Service officials had originally planned to buy a total of 750 planes but in 2009, the programme was cut to 187 operational production aircraft due to high costs.
Al Udeid serves as one of the most important overseas US military bases with operations throughout theMiddle Eastlaunched from Qatar.
The base hosts about 11,000 US and US-led coalition forces and over 100 operational aircraft.
In the aftermath of the Gulf War in 1991, the US and Qatar signed a military cooperation agreement after which the US military moved to Qatar in 2003, evacuating the Prince Sultan Airbase in Saudi Arabia.
Strategically placed, about 80 percent of aerial refuelling in the region is being done from Al Udeid, according to Qatari officials.