May 9, 2007 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Twelve F-22 Raptors headed back from Japan to the United States after completing training exercises in the first overseas deployment of the Air Force's most advanced aircraft. It was a performance that began and ended with delays.
A Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet flies alongside an Air Force F-22 Raptor during joint training exercises at Kadena AFB.
The planes' arrival was delayed by about a week because of a computer glitch that forced them to turn around and return to base shortly after leaving Hawaii. Officials said they had fixed that problem.
Also on the departure there seemed to be a problem. The last F-22s left the island of Okinawa several hours later than the rest because of "maintenance concerns."
An Air Force statement from Kadena Air Base on Okinawa said that after a complete check, the planes were approved to leave Kadena and move to "another location in the Pacific region." It did not elaborate on what the problems were.
The four-month deployment was intended to show off the F-22's strengths in a region with a complex security balance that is being challenged by the rapid growth of Chinese and North Korean military power.
The mission also was aimed at giving pilots a chance to train in a new setting and enhancing cooperation with the Japanese military.
The Raptors were deployed in February from Langely Air Force Base in Virginia for training with other Air Force units at the U.S. Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. They also trained with Japan's Air Self-Defense Force.
During their deployment on Okinawa, the fighters conducted joint training with the Japanese.
Last month, two of the F-22A Raptors and two F-15 Eagles took part in the training, which involved mock air battles with four F-4 Phantoms and four F-15 Eagles from Japan's Air Self-Defense Force.
Japan's Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma hailed the mission, saying it presented a "great opportunity" to train together.
Tokyo and Washington were reportedly considering another deployment of the planes to Japan, but there were no plans to regularly bring F-22s to the country.
Under a mutual security pact, the United States maintains about 50,000 troops in Japan, and the two countries have been strengthening the interoperability of their forces in recent years with Japan hoping to take a more active role in regional security.
The fighters may be deployed in Japan again, Kevin Maher, the U.S. consul general in Okinawa stated, but there are no plans to regularly bring F-22s to Japan. Raptors fighters are however scheduled to be deployed in Alaska and possibly Hawaii, which would give a significant boost to the Air Force's firepower in the Pacific.
Japan, which is planning to replace its aging F-4 fighters with a more advanced aircraft, is a potential market for U.S. fighters, but has expressed concern over the high cost of the F-22 and possible licensing problems.