August 3, 2006

US to fly top-of-line F-22 fighter often from Guam

By Jim Wolf

MARIETTA, Georgia (Reuters) - The top U.S. fighter
aircraft, the F-22 Raptor, will operate frequently from the
Pacific island of Guam in coming years, a top general said on
Thursday, as Washington counters China's military build-up with
enhanced U.S. firepower in the region.

Air Force Gen. Paul Hester, commander of U.S. Pacific Air
Forces, said Guam's Anderson Air Force Base would be host to an
early tour of F-22s from a squadron of 18 to be delivered to
Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, by January 2008.

"We will have them rotate into Guam on a frequent basis,"
probably starting by mid 2008, Hester said at a ceremony at the
assembly plant where the first F-22 to be assigned to the
Pacific Command was being put together.

Guam is a U.S. territory 3,400 miles southwest of Hawaii
and about 1,800 miles from China's coast.

The Raptor, built by Lockheed Martin Corp., "stands as a
continued modernization effort against those countries who are
also modernizing their forces," Hester told reporters in
response to a question about China after the ceremony. "And
thus it provides stability in the Pacific region."

Plans for the buildup of U.S. forces in the Pacific were
spelled out in a Pentagon strategy review published in

The Defense Department said it would put 60 percent of the
Navy's attack-submarine fleet in the Pacific in the coming
decade, up from 50 per cent, along with six aircraft carrier
groups to support "engagement, presence and deterrence."

The United States already maintains a rotating presence in
Guam of B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers as part of a new U.S. "hedge"
strategy designed to prepare for any conflict with China.

The United States is also concerned about North Korea's
nuclear ambitions and missile development.

Flying the F-22 from Guam, the Air Force will be able to
test "ideas of how we would operate away from home station in
Elmendorf," Hester said, adding he expected the aircraft to
take part in joint exercises with Japan and Australia.

Three of the seven operational F-22 squadrons will be based
in the Pacific, two at Elmendorf and one at Hickam Air Force
Base in Hawaii, Hester said.

The 18 bound for Hickam would arrive in 2010 or 2011, the
last of seven projected combat-ready squadrons, he said.

The other four squadrons are expected to be divided between
Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, and Holloman Air Force Base,
New Mexico.