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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The F-22 Raptor will begin roaming the theater in summer 2007, the Pacific Air Forces commander said Thursday.

Gen. Paul V. Hester, addressing members of the media at Yokota, said the long-awaited stealth fighters would arrive at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska in August for use in the Pacific theater. Initial rollout is expected Feb. 12 at Langley Air Force Base, Va., he said.

Considered the world’s only fifth-generation fighter, the F-22 Raptor is “unprecedented in its total integration of stealth and advanced avionics,” according to a Web site devoted to the warplane, www.f22-raptor.com/.

Hester also discussed the C-17’s emerging role in the Pacific, where eight are based in Hawaii. Eight more will be added to the overall PACAF fleet when they begin operating out of Alaska in June, he said.

Hester said although no C-17s will be stationed permanently at Yokota, lots of them will be seen working through Pacific bases.

“It’s allowed us to do business out here that we might not otherwise have been able to do,” he said. “They can carry a lot more cargo than even C-130s.”

Hester also said he’s confident the Air Force will be able to continue to use BDU-33 training bombs despite three recent mishaps with the devices. One fell from an Osan-based A-10 fighter on Nov. 29 over Eumseong, South Korea, tearing a path through a two-story wire factory. Two of the dummy bombs also fell in Japan in two separate incidents involving Misawa-based U.S. warplanes on Nov. 15 and Dec. 6. No one was injured in the three incidents.

“It’s not a destructive bomb, but it could cause some damage if it fell in someone’s lap,” Hester said. “It’s not often one of those doesn’t clear.”

Misawa temporarily has halted use of the BDU-33 as an investigation continues into the accidents there, U.S. Forces Japan officials said Thursday. Spokesmen for 51st Fighter Wing commander Brig. Gen. Joseph Reynes Jr. have refused to state whether Osan pilots are flying with the dummy bombs. Repeated queries have gone unanswered.

“My expectation and my confidence is we will find no significant issue … and continue to drop those,” Hester said.

Hester also said Thursday:

¶ There are no American plans to bring Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles to Tokyo or the Kanto Plain in the wake of North Korea’s recent nuclear weapons test. “Time will tell” whether Japan might purchase the Patriots in the future, he added. “There is a growing industry and growing mission … of what we can provide. It builds on the architecture that protects Japan.”

¶ The September coup in Thailand might impact future military exercises there. The State Department still is weighing plans.

¶ Budget constraints are limiting PACAF’s ability to conduct bilateral engagements with other nations. Hester said some construction projects also have had to be put on hold although most quality-of-life programs on bases remain unaffected by the belt-tightening across the Department of Defense.

¶ Personnel will continue to be needed in the combat zone. “We’re going to continue to be deployed and continue to be in a high-ops tempo, some areas more than others,” Hester said.

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