U.S. Deploys One Fifth of Combat Coded F-22 Raptors for Guam Show of Force

In a period of high tensions between Washington and Beijing, the U.S. Air Force announced plans to deploy approximately one-fifth of its fleet of combat-coded F-22 Raptor stealth fighters to Guam. 

Unconfirmed reports indicate that the deployment has already begun, with the aircraft being dispatched for a major airpower exercise to demonstrate its “strategic flexibility” in deploying large numbers of next-generation fighter jets to forward positions. 

Guam has long served as a hub of military operations in the Pacific and has played a vital role in projecting power into the Western Pacific for the U.S. which has sought to assert hegemony in the region since the early-mid 1940s. 

Rapid forward deployment of F-22s is how the U.S. Air Force would be expected to respond to open hostilities, or anticipation of imminent hostilities, with China or North Korea which remain the primary challengers to American regional dominance. 

Guam hosts two major military facilities, Andersen Air Force Base and Guam Naval Base, with both sets to play important roles in upcoming drills. 

The F-22 is the only fully operational fifth-generation fighter in the western world and saw a short production run mainly in the 2000s as orders to cancel production were given less than four years after the fighter first entered service. 

Only 187 serial production models were ever manufactured, of which only a portion is ready for frontline service and combat coded - with much of the remainder of the fleet used for training purposes. 

The only other Western post-fourth generation fighter to enter service, the F-35, has only a limited initial operating capability and is still far from ready for even medium intensity combat. 

The F-22 is particularly prized for the Asia-Pacific theatre due to its high endurance and advanced stealth capabilities, although it suffers from a number of advantages compared to potential enemy models such as the Chinese J-20 which benefits from helmet-mounted sights, AESA radar-guided missiles, and distributed aperture systems - the lack of which leave the older Raptor at a significant disadvantage in several respects. 

F-22s deploying to Guam will be from the Air Force 525th Fighter Squadron at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska, and the 199th Fighter Squadron from the Hawaii Air National Guard's 154th Wing. 

Approximately two dozen of the fighters will be joined by 10 F-15E strike fighters based in Idaho. 

Although the F-22 contingent is not particularly large, considering that only 125 of the aircraft are combat coded it represents a significant portion of the American fleet. 

The bulk of the remaining 60 plus fighters would take time to be made ready for high-intensity combat operations even if combat coded - as they had not been upgraded to the most recent configurations. The F-22 is expected to be retired in the coming years despite being considered the most capable fighter in the Western world, as its extreme maintenance requirements and operational costs have made it impractical to use while it has struggled to incorporate upgrades to contend with new generations of aircraft such as the J-20 or its domestic rivals the F-35A and F-15EX. 

The Raptor has among of the lowest availability rates in the U.S. Military and by far the lowest of any American fighter class — including the F-35 which has itself suffered from serious parts shortages and maintenance issues. 

Guam’s importance to U.S. offensive operations in East Asia has led both China and North Korea to develop a range of armaments capable of neutralizing faculties on the territory, including their respective DF-26 and Hwasong-12 ‘Guam Killer’ ballistic missiles. 

High-maintenance aircraft which would not be able to fly away quickly, and which spend much more time on their runways, would be particularly vulnerable to such attacks. 

The U.S. Air Force is planning to replace the F-22 with a newer class of fighter - currently under development under the F-X program - which will be tailored primarily to meet the requirements of the East Asian theatre where the F-22, its predecessor the F-15 and its lighter counterpart the F-35 were all developed with combat in the European theatre in mind.

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