The deployment is seen as a way to exert pressure on Pyongyang over its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs as the North Korean leadership considers fifth-generations stealth fighter jets as “strategic assets” capable of launching strikes against targets inside North Korea in the event of a conflict. The F-22 Raptor is a single-seat, twin-engine, stealth air-superiority fighter with ground-attack capabilities.
According to Pacific Air Forces, the first aircraft arrived at Kadena Air Base on May 29 under the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s theater security package program (TSP). “TSP deployments to the Indo-Pacific region signify a continued commitment to regional stability and security and have served as a routine and integral part of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s force posture since March 2004,” the statement reads.
“While deployed, these squadrons execute a variety of missions, which can include ensuring access to the global commons, global situational awareness, combating piracy, active defense, and power projection,” a statement by the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base was quoted as saying by the Air Force Times.
The last rotational deployment of F-22 stealth fighter jets to Okinawa took place more than three years ago in 2014. In December 2017, six F-22s participated in Vigilant ACE (Air Component Exercise), a bilateral combined air force exercise involving the USAF and Republic of Korea Air Force.
The newly arrived F-22s are replacing 12 USAF fifth-generation stealth multirole Joint Strike Fighter F-35A Lightning II— the aircraft’s conventional takeoff and landing version— at Kadena. The aircraft along with more than 300 men and women of the USAF’s 388th and 419th Fighter Wings, initially deployed to Okinawa for a six-month rotation in November 2017.
It was the first time that the USAF’s variant of the F-35 has deployed to the Indo-Pacific region. “Combined, these deployments re-enforce PACAF’s commitment to the employment of fifth-generation fighter technology within the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command area of responsibility,” the May 29 Pacific Air Forces statement reads.
Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said on June 5 that the deployment of F-22s will strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance. “As the Defense Ministry, we believe this will contribute to the strengthening of the deterrence force of the Japan-U.S. alliance as well as to the safety of our country and the Indo-Pacific region,” he was quoted as saying by the Japan Times.
Some locals in Okinawa have protested the F-22 deployment over the last few days, complaining about noise pollution.