Hawaii Air National Guard F-22A Raptors from the 154th Fighter Wing and C-17As and KC-135Rs from the 15th Wing, based at Hickam AFB on the island of Oahu, took part in an evolving rapid deployment concept, aptly named "Rapid Raptor." The exercise would see a handful of the world's most advanced fighters being deployed under some incredibly austere conditions.
Under this emerging doctrine, four F-22s are sent anywhere in the world at a very short notice, and in some cases these locales have no Raptor specific preparations, or really any infrastructure synonymous with advanced fighter aircraft at all.
At face value, Rapid Raptor is a stealthy 911 fighter force that can project power, and if need be, affect the battlefield within a very short amount of time. Additionally, being that Rapid Raptor focuses on sending small groups of F-22s on short deployments to unfamiliar locales, this leaves potential enemies vulnerable in geographical areas that they may have never imagined an American threat emanating from before. Such a strategy is highly relevant in terms of the Pacific Theater, a vast expanse dotted with thousands of runways.
In the case of this iteration of the Rapid Raptor exercise, the third and most advanced of its kind, Hawaii's F-22s ended up at Andersen AFB, on the island of Guam. Although the F-22 community makes regular deployments to the Pacific island stronghold, this time the handful of jets deployed under Rapid Raptor would be operating out of a simulated 'austere' environment, in a sparse section of the sprawling super-base.
Lt. Col. David Eaglin, Pacific Air Forces' Chief of Current Operations and Power Projection Division describes what Rapid Raptor is all about:
"The ability to launch F-22s to a nontraditional location with a complement of additional pilots, embedded maintenance, as well as fuel and munitions, allows for unprecedented flexibility in 5th generation fighter aircraft deployment.
This concept embodies the fundamental tenants of air power: speed, flexibility and surprise. Rapid Raptor, once operationalized, will enable us to deploy to and operate from austere locations with a contained cell of personnel and equipment. This will provide us a much greater capability to swiftly respond in support of security and stability in the region."
The 36th Contingency Response Group was also part of this Rapid Raptor evolution, having the critical job of providing air base functionality at a location that may be so remote and unprepared that not just maintenance personnel and their equipment, extra pilots and weapons have to be brought in via air lift, but also fuel, crash response and air traffic control infrastructure may have to be established as well. Then there is the logistics challenge of actually sustaining this force for a period time, often in a temporary 'tent city.' All of which were present on the remote part of the highly developed Anderson AFB where Rapid Raptor took place.
Captain Mike Ball, the project officer for the operation, explained the value of having the exercise, which is still experimental and evolving in nature, at Andersen AFB:
"Our detachment operated independently from the rest of the base, but we were close enough to support agencies in the event we found a gap in our plan; which is what these proofs-of-concept are all about - finding the gaps in the plan and finding a way forward."
Rapid Raptor is such a promising and potentially effective capability in that it takes the most complex fighter aircraft in the world and attempts to deploy it to destinations that are far more sparse and unprepared than anywhere we have associated with such an aircraft before. When you think stealth aircraft, finicky, maintenance intensive and delicate hardware that requires a lot of infrastructure comes to mind, not any obscure island with a 7,500ft paved runway and room for a 'tent town.'
The sheer strategic flexibility that the Rapid Raptor concept offers, with such a capable multi-role weapon system at its core, is really just another sign that America's investment in the F-22 is finally paying off and it leaves our potential enemies at much more vulnerable than before Rapid Raptor became a reality. It also underlines that the 'pivot towards the Pacific' may have stumbled but it is still underway, although sluggishly, and some highly relevant concepts are supporting it advance.
Source/picture credits: USAF
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com