Assume conditions deteriorate and the international community bands together in favor of a pre-emptive, punitive strike on some or all of Iran’s nuclear sites. The heavy lifting would fall to the only two stealth aircraft in the world today – the B-2 bomber and the F-22 fighter.
Most likely the B-2s would attack at night like they did ten years ago in Operation Allied Force. With only 20 B-2s in existence the fleet could muster between four and six aircraft each night in sustained operations or a bigger slice of 10 or more aircraft for a one-time raid. The B-2s would likely carry heavier precision weapons in the 5,000 lb. class and perhaps the 20,000 lb. “Moab” in order to reach buried facilities.
Expect several combat air patrols of F-22s to go in with them in case of stray Iranian fighters or pop-up surface-to-air missiles. Iran’s air force is probably not as good as the Serbs were, but the Serb MiG-29s caused some moments of drama for NATO aircrews back in 1999. B-2 pilots have long looked forward to the arrival of the F-22 so that they’d have some help over the target area. Look for the U.S. to urgently seek a Gulf state base for the F-22s and somewhere like Diego Garcia for the B-2 bombers.
Navy submarines or cruisers might launch Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM) against some of the softer targets, or on alternate, diversionary targets. Stealth pilots are quite used to contending with the close timing of the TLAMs exploding on the horizon.
Many other aircraft will be in support. Gulf state allies may want enhanced combat air patrols over the Gulf. Land-based Coalition fighters and probably two Navy carriers could supply that. At least a few tanker orbits may need to snuggle up to the Gulf in case strike aircraft leave the target area low on fuel.
The final execute order will have a White House stamp and be carried out by Central Command’s air forces. Every pilot going into enemy airspace will be thanking his or her lucky stars for every advanced system on that airplane. None of them will seem too “exquisite” in that dark lonely place.
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