They took the northern route into Syria which likely took them over Turkey and around Russian air defenses arrayed along Syria's coastline. The flights checked in with the Joint Terminal Air Controller (JTAC) on the ground south of the city of al Tabqa, an area where Syrian forces were getting dangerously close to friendly forces.
The group of four strike fighters entered the close air support stack (CAS stack) overhead the JTAC and waited for any requests for strikes when a Russian Su-27 showed up and began loitering high overhead.
Mob [Lt. Cmdr. Michael "Mob" Tremel], who was having issues with his targeting pod, was assigned to keep tabs on the circling Russian fighter while the other pilots continued with their CAS mission. He turned the Super Hornet's master mode to air-to-air and began tracking the Su-27 and searching the skies around the area for other aircraft.
Then another radar track appeared—a fast moving aircraft coming from the south directly towards him. Although Mob figured it was probably a Syrian aircraft, he moved to intercept the target and eventually made a visual identification on what turned out to be a Syrian Air Force Su-22 Fitter swing-wing attack jet—the same type of aircraft used to deliver the gas attack that led to the Tomahawk missile strike a few months earlier.
Mob made it clear during the presentation that if the Syrian jet just turned away that would have been great as they had plenty to do in support of ground forces, but that didn't end up being the case.
After identifying the Su-22, Mob got on the radio with an airborne command and control post, an E-3 Sentry, and had them broadcast warnings repeatedly over guard frequency to the Syrian jet. Those radio calls did not result in a change of course by the Syrian pilot. Then Mob "thumped" the Su-22 three times—flying close over the jet's canopy and popping flares out in front of it before breaking off—to warn him away. That didn't work either.
By then the Su-22 was in striking distance of friendly forces and it began to dive, releasing its weapons in the process, before making a climb out after the attack. Based on the rules of engagement that were briefed to the naval aviators, Mob locked the Su-22 up from behind with an AIM-9X Sidewinder and fired.
The missile zipped off the Hornet's wing rail trailing smoke but quickly disappeared. It wasn't clear why the missile failed to track the Su-22 or where it had gone. Mob quickly selected an AIM-120 AMRAAM and fired once again. He noted how long it took for the missile to fire off the Super Hornet's "cheek" station located along the outer edges of its air intakes.
Regardless, the missile tracked the Fitter flying just a short distance away and exploded on its backside, pitching it violently to the right and downward. The pilot was clearly seen ejecting from the doomed swing-wing attack jet.
The ejection seat passed very close down the right sight of Mob's canopy. He noted how live-fire training helped him during the engagement because he knew what to expect and quickly rolled away from the explosion instead of flying through it.