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Japan, U.S. to hold first joint Raptor drills

April 24, 2007 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The Japanese Air Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Air Force will hold this week their first joint exercise involving F-22A stealth fighters temporarily deployed at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa.

Crew chiefs park two F-22 Raptors after landing at Kadena AFB.

The drills to be held Thursday and Friday in airspace around Okinawa come amid growing concern among residents near the Kadena base about noise and possible accidents involving the F-22A Raptor, a squadron of which has been deployed there since February.

The exercise will involve 10 to 18 fighter jets, including F-4 Phantom II, F-15 Eagle and F-22A Raptor aircraft, and is aimed at improving the interoperability of the ASDF and the U.S. Air Force.

The Japanese side wants to learn about the F-22A fighter and its performance through the joint drills as it views the Raptor as one of the top candidates for replacing its aging fleet of F-4EJ fighters, due to be scrapped beginning next year, and older F-15s models, which are Japan's mainstay fighter.

"The air-to-air training is important to enhance our relations with our host nation and a great chance for our aircrews to work with their Japanese counterparts," said Brig. Gen. Punch Moulton, commander of the 18th Wing.

Japanese jets in the exercise are from the JASDF Naha Air Base on Okinawa and Komatsu Air Base, northwest of Tokyo, a JASDF spokesman said Tuesday.

Japan would like to purchase up to 100 Raptors but Pro-China elements at the White House and the Pentagon oppose the deal. On the other hand, officials concerned about China's growing military power support the proposed export deal, noting that the Japan sale could cause a shift in the region's balance of power.

For the near term, the U.S. is planning only limited F-22 deployments in the Far East, with Raptor squadrons in Alaska and Okinawa.

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