Air Force's Newest Fighter Makes Alaska Home
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska, Aug. 9, 2007 – The Air Force’s newest fighter officially made its home here yesterday, as six F-22A Raptors landed during a ceremony marking their official arrival to the state.
The Air Force is standing up a fighter squadron here with jets fresh off the assembly line and some pilots fresh from training.
A total of 183 production Raptors are now on contract, and 106 aircraft have finished final assembly, according to Lockheed Martin officials. Ninety-nine F-22s have been delivered. The aircraft has been in operational service with the U.S. Air Force since December 2005.
Raptors are currently assigned to five U.S. bases. Operational Raptors are assigned to the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base, and the 3rd Wing, which is based here. Flight testing takes place at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Operational tactics are developed at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Pilots and crew chief are trained at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Raptors also will be based at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., and Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.
Combined with the June arrival of the Air Force’s newest cargo aircraft, the C-17 Globemaster III, the arrival of the top fighter underscores both the strategic importance of Alaska, as well as its training significance, officials said.
“I firmly believe that this is the Pacific arena for the next 100 years,” said Air Force Gen. Paul V. Hester, commander of Pacific Air Forces and air component commander for U.S. Pacific Command. “Alaska is an important place for us to be.”
Hester said Alaska’s training capabilities matched with its location make the state a smart choice for getting the jets into the fight faster when needed. “When you don’t know where the fight is going to be, then you need to balance all of the pieces: being ready to deploy, being trained to deploy and front-line capability. Alaska is the place,” he said.
The U.S. military’s top officer in Alaska echoed Hester’s comments.
“Here in Alaska we have probably the best training space in the United States,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. Douglas M. Fraser, commander of PACOM’s Alaskan Command. “Then you take the strategic location of Alaska, which allows us to reach any part of the northern hemisphere in roughly the same time, it is a perfect match.
“The position in Alaska allows us to get wherever … our nation needs us quicker than from any other location,” Fraser said.
When fully manned, the base will house two active-duty Raptor squadrons with 20 jets each, 60 pilots and more than 500 maintainers. About two aircraft with crews will be added to the base per month until manned.
The unit will spend until next summer manning and training its fresh force and then assume a limited number of operations deploying up to six jets at a time.
The Air Force Reserve also plans to stand up its first Raptor fighter unit at the base. The unit will serve alongside its active-duty counterpart, falling in on its aircraft. More than 400 airmen will serve in the unit once it’s fully manned. One of the F-22 pilots who flew into the base today is a reserve pilot.
The F-22 is the 13th fighter to base in Alaska since 1941. The fighters will fall into the 90th Fighter Squadron, a former F-15E unit with roots back to World War I.
One of the pilots, Air Force Maj. Dave Elliott, said he is excited about the training opportunities Alaska offers. “This is awesome. This is one of the best places to be,” he said.
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