Hickam may get F-22A Raptor fighters
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
By William Cole
The Air Force wants to base 18 of its most advanced weapons — the stealthy F-22A Raptor fighter — at Hickam Air Force Base.
The basing, with no time line as of yet, would represent about one-tenth of the 183 Raptors being built through 2012, and is yet another example of Hickam's return to prominence as a staging point for military missions in the Pacific.
Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute in Virginia, said the F-22 is the Air Force's most prized asset.
"The fact that they are putting it in Hawai'i underscores how valuable they think Hickam is as an operating base," Thompson said.
The plan comes as eight C-17 Globemaster IIIs, the Air Force's latest-generation cargo carriers, are being based at Hickam, and the Navy announced additional nuclear attack submarines will be moved from the Atlantic to the Pacific to counter a corresponding shift in global threats.
"What the movement of the submarines and the movement of the F-22s tells us is Hawai'i is right dead center in the middle of military action for this millennium," Thompson said.
Hickam was an airlift hub from World War II through the Vietnam War with C-47 Skytrain and C-54 Skymaster aircraft, among others, but for the last 30 years had primarily a mid-Pacific refueling mission on the active-duty side.
The Raptors would replace the Hawai'i Air National Guard's 18 mid- to late-1970s vintage F-15A and B Eagle fighters. Fifteen of the jets are operational and three are spares, officials said.
The Raptors would be flown in partnership between the active-duty Air Force and the Air Guard, a model used for the newly arriving C-17s and a relatively recent approach favored by the Air Force to save money.
Air Force chief of staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley said in a release yesterday that the "preferred alternatives" for the third and fourth F-22 bases are Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico and Hickam.
The aircraft were certified for operational use at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia in December. Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska was selected as the second site for F-22s.
U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawai'i, said the Hickam basing is contingent on environmental studies under the National Environmental Policy Act.
"Air Force officials have made it clear to me that they definitely favor Hickam as an operational base for this new generation of high-tech jet fighters," Inouye said in a statement.
FAST AND STEALTHY
The F-22A's twin engines produce more thrust than any current fighter, and in combination with a sleek profile, allow it to cruise at supersonic speeds without afterburners.
The aircraft, which has a stealthy shape that makes it hard to spot on radar, can carry two 1,000-pound bombs internally for ground attack, and eight missiles for air-to-air missions.
Moseley, testifying yesterday before the House Armed Services Committee, said the F-22 "is performing magnificently."
"We've got it in initial operational capability at Langley. We've flown it in Operation Noble Eagle missions over the capital and over the East Coast," Moseley said. "We've deployed it a couple of times. We have a big deployment plan in the spring to take it out of the (continental U.S.). The airplane's doing everything we ask it to do."
Lockheed Martin, which produces both the F-22 and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, said the Raptor is faster to the fight, two times more reliable and more than three times more effective than the F-15 it replaces.
It's also one of the most expensive fighters ever, each costing $135 million compared with about $80 million for the F/A-18 Super Hornet flown by the Navy and Marines.
Thompson said Air Force strategy for Hickam would mean moving the F-22s to a forward operating base in the event of war. It also calls for development of a next-generation tanker that would give the fighters the range they need for a deep strike against countries such as China or North Korea.
Guam, 3,000 miles west of Hawai'i and closer to Asia, has seen the basing of three attack submarines and bomber rotations but is not part of the F-22 basing plan announced yesterday.
"The simple reality is that the infrastructure in Hawai'i is so much more sophisticated than you find in Guam," Thompson said. " ... You would not wage a war with F-22s from Hawai'i, but having them stationed there gets them halfway to the war zone."
Gen Paul Hester, commander of Pacific Air Forces or PACAF, was excited about the new fighters.
"We'll be better poised to provide more airpower options to U.S. Pacific Command, and make sure we continue to increase our effectiveness within the Pacific region," Hester said.
"Hawai'i finds itself at one corner of a 'strategic triangle' in the Pacific, along with Guam and Alaska," he said. "Having F-22s assigned to PACAF supports the view that having strong presence within the triangle is the right way to do what needs to be done."
Maj. Chuck Anthony, a spokesman for the Hawai'i National Guard, said the F-22 partnership may or may not be the same between the active-duty Air Force and Air Guard for the operation of the C-17s, which has a 60 percent active component and 40 percent Air Guard makeup.
"We already have the Guard people here in terms of (F-15) pilots and maintenance personnel. But we have no idea what the mix will be," he said.
What facilities the new aircraft would need also is unclear. A single F-15 hangar usually houses up to four aircraft, but most are parked on the ramp, Anthony said.
The F-15s have a Hawai'i air defense mission, but were deployed to Iraq to patrol the southern no-fly zone in 2000 and patrolled the skies above Honolulu after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
ON THE CUTTING EDGE
Steven Diamond, historian for Pacific Air Forces, said the Hawai'i Air Guard has flown a succession of fighters since World War II, starting with P-47 Thunderbolts in 1947.
The list also has included the F-86, F-102, F-4, and from 1987 on, the F-15A and B model Eagles.
"It's quite amazing to have (C-17) airlifters and front-line fighters (F-22s expected) right here at the same base," Diamond said. " ... We'll have both cutting-edge airlifters and the cutting-edge fighter in the Air Force inventory."Advertiser Washington Bureau reporter Dennis Camire contributed to this report. Reach William Cole at wcole@honolu luadvertiser.com or 525-5459. Reach Camire at dcamire@gns .gannett.com.
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