The United States Air Force will send more than two dozen F-22 stealth aircraft to an exercise in western Pacific this month. This is an unusually large deployment that analysts believe sends a strong message about the United States to China.
Pacific Air Forces Hawaii reported this week that approximately 25 F-22s Raptors from Hawaii Air National Guard and Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson, Alaska will be deployed to Guam and Tinian islands in support of Operation Pacific Iron 2021.
“We have never seen so many Raptors deployed together within the Pacific Air Forces Area of Operations,” Gen. Ken Wilsbach (Pacific Air Forces commander) said.
Fifth-generation F-22s are combat jets of fifth generation. They incorporate stealth technology and connect on-board sensors with off-board information systems, giving their pilots a clear view of the battlefield. Another example is the US F-35s.
The deployment of large numbers of F-22s to the exercise is a direct message to China, at a time of tension over Pacific islands like Taiwan, said Carl Schuster (a Hawaii-based defense analyst) and former director of operations at US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center. He said that F-22 deployments are usually six to twelve aircraft.
He said, “The Pacific Air Force is showing that it can quickly deploy as many or even more fifth-generation aircraft to the theater than (China’s) entire inventory.”
Schuster stated that the Chinese air force currently has 20-24 fifth-generation fighters in operation, but he also noted that Beijing’s capabilities are rapidly improving.
According to Air Force statistics, the US Air Force currently has 180 F-22s in its fleet. However, only half of these F-22s are capable of carrying out mission-critical missions at any given time. The US will send approximately 25% of its mission F-22s to the Pacific Iron exercise.
F-22s are expected to be the first weapon used in any conflict due to their ability to evade radar detection. They will be assigned to take out enemy air defenses and other missions.
The US is practicing deployments in case of war or major crisis. “The US takes China very seriously, and is developing its force position and training its troops to be able quickly move into place,” stated Peter Layton (an analyst with Griffith Asia Institute), a former Australian airforce officer.
According to Pacific Air Forces, there will be 10 F-15 Strike Eagle fighters at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, and two C-130J Hercules transport aircrafts at Yokota Air Base, Japan, to join the F-22s for Operation Pacific Iron. This operation is also known as a Combat Dispersal Operation.