An Instagram account claiming to be of a retired Russian pilot of an Su-35, Russia’s top jet fighter, posted a picture purportedly of a US F-22 Raptor stealth jet flying above Syria, suggesting it was evidence that his older, bigger jet could outflank it.
The picture appears to show an F-22 in flight on what looks broadly like an image produced by an infrared search and track (IRST) system, which the Su-35 houses in its nose-cone area to look for heat, not radar cross section, potentially helping it find stealth aircraft at close ranges.
The author of the post claimed to have spotted the F-22, which has all-aspect stealth and is virtually invisible to traditional radars, during combat operations in Syria.
After describing at length how these encounters usually go — there are dedicated lines of communication used to avoid conflict between Russia and the US as they operate in close proximity over Syria — the author claimed to have locked onto the F-22.
A Business Insider translation of part of the caption reads: “F-22 was arrogant and was punished after a short air battle, for which of course it got f—ed.”
Russia has long mocked the US’s stealth jets and claimed an ability to defeat them in combat. But while Russia can spot US stealth jets by looking for heat and not radar signature, that’s very different from being able to shoot them down.
Even if the images are genuine, “it doesn’t alone suggest that the Su-35S is reliably capable of detecting and intercepting the F-22,” Justin Bronk, an air-combat expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider.
“Furthermore, the F-22 will have been aware of the Su-35’s presence since the latter took off, so it isn’t really any indication of a diminishment of the F-22’s combat advantage,” he said.
The Raptor’s thermal signature is no secret.
“IRST systems can be used to detect and potentially track stealth aircraft under specific conditions,” Bronk said. But that “doesn’t mean that they are anything approaching a satisfactory solution to the problem of fighting against such targets, as they have limited range compared to radar and are vulnerable to environmental disruption and degradation,” he added.
In essence, he said, an F-22 would have seen the Su-35 long before the Russians saw the American, and the S-35 most likely spotted the F-22 only because it flew up close in the first place.
Bronk previously described looking for fifth-generation aircraft in the open skies with IRST as like “looking through a drinking straw.”
A Pentagon spokesman, Eric Pahon, told Business Insider that he was “unable to verify the claims made on Instagram” but that “Russia has been conducting a concentrated disinformation campaign in Syria to sow confusion and undercut US and allied efforts there.”
US pilots can tell when their jets have been targeted by enemy weapons, so they would know whether a Su-35 pilot established any “lock.”
Russian media has since picked up the story, running it with analysis that suggests the Su-35 may be able to defeat the F-22.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.