POSTED: 11:08 a.m. HST, Jul 9, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 2:16 p.m. HST, Jul 9, 2010
The Air Force today celebrated the arrival in Hawaii of the world's most advanced fighter jet.
During a dedication ceremony, airmen draped two F-22 planes with giant maile lei after the jets landed at Hickam Field. A priest blessed the jets by scattering holy water on them with ti leaves.
The planes are the first of 20 F-22 jets the Air Force plans to base at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on Oahu.
They will be assigned to the Hawaii Air National Guard's 154th Wing. Crews from both the Guard and the active duty Air Force's 15th Wing will jointly fly and maintain the planes.
The F-22 Raptors are replacing aging the Guard's fleet of aging F-15s. The newer jets represent an "exponential leap" in advancement over the older planes, said Gen. Gary North, Pacific Air Forces Commander.
The jets are able to cruise at supersonic speeds, evade enemy radar and make abrupt sharp turns.
"Nobody can approach the technology blend we have in the airplane," said North.
The basing is an acknowledgment of Hawaii's proximity to Asia, where the U.S. is committed to defending allies like Japan and South Korea. Together with two F-22 squadrons already based in Alaska, experts and officials say the planes will give countries like North Korea a reason not to strike.
Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said the Pacific region is an area of major concern to the nation.
"It is an area that may have potential for explosions. This F-22 will be a major instrument of deterrence in this part of the world," Inouye told the crowd of several thousand people gathered for the ceremony.
The Hawaii Guard is the only Guard unit in the country that will "own" the F-22 planes.
"That shows a huge amount of confidence I think in their abilities to continue to carry on the mission," said Lt. Col. Harvey Newton, commander of the 19th Fighter Squadron, the active duty unit that will share piloting and maintenance duties with the Guard.