Twelve F-22s and more than 250 airmen from Langley’s 27th Fighter Squadron began arriving at Kadena on 17 February after an 8,000-mile trek. The deployment, scheduled to last approximately ninety days, is part of an air and space expeditionary force rotation to the region. Kadena AB, located on the Japanese island of Okinawa, is the hub of airpower in the Pacific and home to the Air Force’s largest combat wing—the 18th Wing.
Thirteenth Air Force is responsible for F-22 operations while the Raptors are in theater. Lt. Gen. Loyd S. Utterback, 13th Air Force commander, stresses that the deployment is not in response to any specific situation. "The United States routinely evaluates its readiness and repositions forces throughout the Western Pacific to meet its security obligations," he says. "The F-22 deployment is the latest example of the flexibility that US forces have to meet ongoing commitments within the region."
"This deployment is a great opportunity for the squadron," says Lt. Col. Wade Tolliver, commander of the 27th FS. "Not only will we be learning about operating from an overseas location, we will get the opportunity to educate the Air Force and our sister services on the capabilities the jet brings to the fight."
"This is history in the making," adds Brig. Gen. Harold Moulton, the 18th Wing commander. "This deployment brings unmatched combat airpower to the Pacific and highlights the importance of the bilateral alliance of promoting peace and stability in the region."
The 27th Fighter Squadron, the Air Force’s first front-line F-22 fighter squadron, reached initial operational capability in December 2005. Although this is the first overseas deployment for the Raptor, it is not the F-22’s first deployment from Langley AFB. In October 2005, the 27th deployed F-22s to Hill AFB, Utah, where pilots practiced unique flight tactics and dropped inert Joint Direct Attack Munitions. The squadron also deployed to Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, in May 2006 to participate in joint training during Northern Edge exercises.
While F-22s from Langley’s 27th FS deployed to Kadena AB, the base’s other Raptor unit, the 94th Fighter Squadron, set its own precedent by participating in Red Flag exercises at Nellis AFB, Nevada. Fourteen Raptors and almost 200 personnel from Langley were part of the more than 200 aircraft and approximately 5,200 military members from the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia taking part in the training. The Royal Air Force sent Tornado GR.4s, and the Royal Australian Air Force sent F-111C Aardvarks. Other aircraft included B-1 Lancers, B-2 Spirits, F-117 Nighthawks, F-15 Eagles, and F-16 Fighting Falcons.
Red Flag is an advanced, realistic combat training exercise designed for fighter pilots. It is conducted over the vast Nellis range complex, which measures sixty by 100 nautical miles. The training involves air-to-air engagements as well as engagement with ground targets, such as mock airfields, convoys, and other ground-based defenses. Threats also include electronically simulated surface-to-air missiles, antiaircraft artillery, communications jamming, and global positioning system jamming.
The F-22’s debut at Red Flag is a significant milestone for the jet. "The training provided by the Red Flag adversaries is like no other on earth," explains Lt. Col. Dirk Smith, commander of the 94th FS. "Our pilots are experiencing a tremendous learning curve."
The F-22 showcased its advantages of stealth, supercruise, maneuverability, and sensor fusion during the exercise. This Red Flag was a first exposure for many participants to the Raptor’s capabilities. For those flying against the new fighter, the experience was often frustrating. "I can’t see the [expletive deleted] thing," said RAAF Squadron Leader Stephen Chappell, an exchange F-15 pilot in the 65th Aggressor Squadron at Nellis. "It won’t let me put a weapon on it, even when I can see it visually through the canopy. [Flying against the F-22] annoys the hell out of me."
Lt. Col. Larry Bruce, who commands the 65th Aggressor Squadron at Nellis and regularly flies against the F-22, admits flying against the Raptor can be humbling. "It’s humbling not only because of the F-22’s stealth, but also because of its unmatched maneuverability and power," he says.
Training with the RAF, RAAF, and other USAF units at Red Flag provided valuable experience for all involved.
"This exercise is a great chance for us to learn what sister and coalition forces can do and for them to learn what we’re capable of doing," Smith says. "The addition of RAF and RAAF players makes the training more diverse and valuable for all pilots involved. Our participation here is not to show off the F-22’s capabilities, but to explore how the Raptor can enhance the overall capability of our Air Force and the coalition forces."