F-22 Raptors of the 90th Fighter Squadron arrive at their new home, Elmendorf AFB, Alaska (Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News).
The Air Force's F-22 Raptor program reached another milestone yesterday, with the arrival of eight aircraft at their new home, Elmendorf AFB, Alaska.
It marks the first time that the F-22--or any stealth aircraft--has been permanently assigned to an installation outside the CONUS. While stealth platforms have temporarily deployed to overseas locations in the past (including a F-22 squadron from Langley AFB, VA that spent part of last summer at Elmendorf), Wednesday's arrival represented the next step in the Air Force's basing strategy--putting its most advanced fighter closer to potential adversaries.
Elmendorf's proximity to Europe and the Far East was noted by General Paul Hester, Commander of Pacific Air Forces, who was on hand for the ceremony. He said that Alaska's "unique strategic location" made it ideal location to house "the most deadly tool in the box."
The Alaskan base will eventually receive a total of 40 F-22s, enough for two squadrons. Roughly 20% of the Air Force's Raptor fleet will be housed at Elmendorf, which becomes the third installation to receive the new fighter, after Langley (which has two operational squadrons), and Tyndall AFB, Florida, where F-22 pilots are trained.
Wednesday's arrival ceremony coincided with an Air Force announcement that it has signed a production contract with Lockheed Martin for the "last batch" of 60 F-22s now scheduled for production. The service now plans to acquire 183 Raptors, down from the 300 jets it originally hoped to buy. There has been talk about a possible F-22 sale to Japan which would keep production lines open, while the Air Force lobbies for additional Raptors.
After Elmendorf's 3rd Fighter Wing receives its complement of F-22s, Holloman AFB, New Mexico will begin the conversion process, taking delivery of its first Raptor in late 2008. An F-22 squadron at Hickam AFB, Hawaii will begin taking shape after that. Smaller numbers of Raptors at stationed at Edwards AFB, California (for flight testing), and with the U.S. Weapons School at Nellis AFB, Nevada, for advanced tactical training.
In the interest of "balance" (we suppose), the Anchorage Daily News ran a companion AP article that recites frequent criticisms of the F-22: it's too expensive, we already have air domiance, it's the wrong weapon for the Global War on Terror. We've discussed--and debunked those arguments (at length) in previous posts. With China's expanding military threat, a nuclear North Korea and a resurgent Russia, stationing Raptors in Alaska makes a great deal of military sense, putting them close to the potential fight, and giving our forces the asset they need to ensure air dominance for decades to come.