There won't be any F-22 stealth fighters at the Paris Air Show this month. U.S. officials are still concerned about intelligence-gathering, passed off as French customs inspections. That happened before when the F-117 was displayed overseas. On one occasion, the aircraft was routed over several French military establishments for electronic intelligence gathering.
However, the Raptor is going to Hawaii. A dozen of the aircraft will form the first F-22 Raptor unit, led by and primarily staffed with Air National Guardsmen. The squadron, part of the Hickam-based 154th wing, will start training its aircrews in 2010 and begin receiving its stealth fighters –- and giving up its F-15s -- in 2011 as it becomes the seventh operational F-22 unit.
"There were rumors as we went through the [base realignment process] last spring and the numbers for the F-22 appeared to be finalized at 183," says the squadron's commander, Lt. Col. Chris Faurot. Hawaii and Alaska were picked to first host the new fighter. "They had to come up with a plan to best array those forces to meet future threats. There is a desire to get as many of those [F-22s], because of their capabilities, as far west as we can."
While the initial interest is in the fighter's aerial combat and bombing capabilities, there is a deeper game afoot.
"The future upgrades to the F-22 are of interest to us -- both kinetic, like the small diameter bomb, and non-kinetic," says Col. Mike Boera, commander of Pacific Air Force's Richard Bong air operations center (AOC). The ability of the F-22 to see and attack very small targets like stealthy cruise missiles is a brand-new capability. Driving the research is the fact that "cruise missile defense is going from a medium to a large area of concern," he says.
Air Force secretary Michael Wynne suggested late in May that Pacific-based Raptors -- F-22s deployed to Okinawa -- may have helped persuade North Korea to engage in talks on curbing its nuclear program. "We'll never know and they'll never admit if the two are related but I can say that after the aircraft arrived, for some reason the negotiations went a lot better," he said. (Of course, they have not made much progress since they left.)
Pacific Air Forces face the task of operating over long distances and the possibility of confronting China's Peoples Liberation Army Air Force. The PLAAF has advanced strike aircraft, such as the Su-30MKK, at least two new cruise missiles, and a new dogfight missile.
More pictures and details in the June 18th edition of Aviation Week & Space Technology.