Kadena offers everything from aircraft hangars to radios, ensuring the 94th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron from Langley Air Force Base, Va., is fully able to integrate its F-22 Raptor squadron into daily operations here.
The fifth-generation aircraft’s deployment to Kadena, which began earlier this year, not only signifies a continued commitment to regional stability and security, but also provides opportunities for both Kadena and Langley Airmen to learn about each other’s aircraft in order to integrate operations enhancing Kadena’s strategic position as the “Keytone of the Pacific.”
Being familiar with other aircraft, its needs and limitations, as well as its capabilities is crucial to ensuring the mission is accomplished, no matter the location.
According to Lt. Col. Jason Hinds, 94th EFS commander, having the Raptors in the region is just one more step toward the U.S.’s strategic shift to the Asia-Pacific theater.
“It’s important for the F-22 to deploy to Kadena for a few reasons,” Hinds said. “The first is to give the pilots, the maintainers, and our entire team from Langley AFB the familiarity with the location and the airspace we would be flying in any kind of future contingency operations.
“The second part … is our airplane is unique in the capabilities it brings to combatant commanders. The speed, the stealth, the supercruise, the maneuverability and the integrated avionics that the F-22s provide, give a unique capability … especially in a highly contested environment,” the colonel added.
“This integrated team puts air superiority on “steroids,” and it’s somewhat of a Yin-Yang relationship where Eagles make Raptors invisible, and Raptors make Eagles invincible,” said Brig Gen Matt Molloy, 18th Wing commander.
The deployment and integration into Kadena operations also provides maintenance Airmen the opportunity to become familiar with the fifth-generation fighter aircraft.
“We try to integrate our Airmen into their operations as much as we can … to get them to understand what kind of challenges the F-22 brings with it,” said Maj. Chris Smith, 18th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron maintenance operations officer. “While it’s cutting edge technology, that technology also changes the way we do business.”
Differences could be as simple as changing a tire or a difference in terminology, so whether during a training day, down day or an Airman just being curious, leadership on both sides have taken every step to give their Airmen chances to work with the other aircraft since the 94th EFS’s arrival on-island.
Senior Airman Jeffrey Hartman, 1st Maintenance Squadron non-destructive inspection specialist deployed to support the 94th EFS, had little experience with the F-15s until this deployment.
“Getting to work on the F-15 (Eagle) is exciting because it’s something new, something different,” said Hartman. “A lot of the inspections are different and it helps us to challenge our minds and work on different things.
“Most NDI people are not aircraft specific, but once you work on one kind of airframe you typically stay with that type of aircraft – fighters stay with fighters, heavies stay with heavies,” he said.
While deployed to Kadena, NDI Airmen join their counterparts in the Kadena NDI shop. They work together every day, every shift, to make sure operations are as cohesive as possible.
“When we forward deploy anywhere, the likelihood today is that our F-22 guys and our F-15 guys, maintenance and operations, are going to be operating together,” said Smith. “If they don’t know how to do that in practice, then it’s going to be that much more difficult when the chaos and fog of war comes down.”
Cooperation from personnel in every aspect — mission planning, mission execution, aircraft maintenance and daily operations, is vital to making sure the 94th EFS is always ready to accomplish the mission.
“Without the 18th Wing, we wouldn’t be able to execute our mission on a day-to-day basis,” said Hinds.
Forward basing of assets gives the U.S. Pacific Command the ability to respond rapidly to any contingency, anywhere in the theater in minimal time, and also underscores the U.S. commitment to ensuring stability and security in the Pacific region.