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Stealth fighters heading for Kadena

Date Posted: 2007-01-19

America’s newest stealth fighter aircraft is being assigned to Okinawa for training missions.

The Air Force F-22 will make its first overseas deployment in February, as 12 planes make the trek to Okinawa beginning February 10th. The state-of-the-art jets are based at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.

The Raptor, as it is commonly known, is a stealth aircraft that can evade enemy radars while cruising at supersonic speeds of more than 1,600kph. The technology is not available on F-15 and F-16 fighter aircraft currently deployed at Kadena and elsewhere in the Pacific. The Air Force F-117 Nighthawk also has the special radar-avoidance technology.

General Paul V. Hester, who commands the Pacific Air Forces, says the planes give him “all the options to face contingencies” in a combat environment. He says the Raptors will be deployed to Kadena for a three-month period. Hester says the F-22’s will face training scenarios with both American Air Force and Japan Air Self Defense Force personnel while in Okinawa.

The Okinawa deployment is a first for the fighters, which were decades in development before going on line in December 2005. Some 250 personnel will accompany the aircraft during the Pacific assignment. The fighters were sent to Alaska for training last summer, but had not been tested overseas.

The Air Force says the F-22 squadrons will be based in Alaska and Hawaii. They will also be assigned in New Mexico, where they will replace the existing F-117 nighthawks.

Local community reaction to the announced deployments has been negative.

Several mayors, including Kadena Town’s Tokujitsu Miyagi, have complained about the F-22 deployments being done without consultation with local leaders.

The F-22, built by U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin as an air superiority fighter to replace the aging F-15, is being considered by the Japanese Defense Ministry as a candidate to replace its own F-15 fleet. The fighter planes can handle ground and electronic attacks while operating at supersonic speeds. PACAF commander Hester says the temporary Okinawa deployment is necessary to give deterrent air power in Asia a boost, but notes it is not linked to any specific incidents or developments in the region.

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