May 1, 2007 (by David Allen) - For the first time ever, fighter jocks with Japan's Air Self-Defense Force got to practice air-to-to-air combat last week with American counterparts who were flying stealthy new F-22A Raptors.
An F-22 Raptor receives fuel from a 909th ARS KC-135 Stratotanker.
U.S. and Japanese jet fighter pilots got a chance to play "good jock, bad jock" in the skies near Okinawa.
In the first mission Friday, the U.S. Air Force was the Blue Team, "basically the good guys," said Lt. Col. Wade Tolliver, commander of the 27th Fighter Squadron. The unit is on temporary deployment from Langley Air Force Base, Va., with 12 of the radar-deflecting Raptors.
The teams — four JASDF F-15Cs and F-4s and two U.S. F-15Cs and F-22As each — swapped roles in the afternoon.
"The Japanese Air Force has very competent, very capable pilots," Tolliver said after the exercise.
He said the Japanese pilots were especially eager to get a look at the F-22As, which are on their first deployment outside the United States.
Japan has expressed a keen interest in buying Raptors to replace its aging fleet of F-4EJ and F-15s.
"This is the second joint training we've done with other nations," Tolliver said. Another U.S.-based Raptor squadron trained with jets from Great Britain and Australia in February during the Red Flag exercise in Nevada.
He said the biggest lesson to be learned was probably on the Japanese side.
"They had the ability to see the F-22s in the air," he said, indicating that the encounter may have been a bit one-sided. "You've got to learn to walk before you run. They learned much about us today."
In Tokyo, JASDF Chief of Staff Gen. Toshio Tamogami said he believes the joint training with F-22As "will help us to form Japan's future strategy."
Kazunori Haga, who took part in the drill in an F-15 as head of a Japanese 6th Air Wing squadron in Ishikawa Prefecture, told Kyodo News that the Raptor "was an aircraft of wonderful performance, being difficult to be detected and highly mobile."
Tolliver said he is unsure when his squadron's deployment to Okinawa will end.
"We're thinking it will be sometime in May," he said, adding he was in no hurry to leave Japan. "The diving's good, the food's good."
Then he got serious. The deployment to Okinawa is a long one for the unit.
"When you get that far from home and your support station you learn a lot," he said. The Raptors have flown some 580 sorties since arriving at Kadena.
"That's amazing for just 12 airplanes," he said. "There has been a lot of learning on this deployment."