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KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Island officials voiced a chorus of protests Wednesday when they learned a squadron of the U.S. Air Force’s most advanced fighter will be arriving here.

Twelve F-22A Raptors will be deployed to Okinawa in early February for several months of training with Air Force and Navy assets and the Japan Air Self Defense Force, the Air Force announced Tuesday.

The squadron, based at Langley Air Force Base, Va., will be part of the U.S. Pacific Command’s security package for the Western Pacific, the Air Force stated, adding that about 250 personnel will accompany the aircraft.

The deployment could last up to five months, according to the Air Force. The F-22As, designed to eventually replace F-15 fighter jets, became operational in December 2005.

On June 12, they were deployed for the joint Northern Edge exercise in Alaska. The deployment to Okinawa will be the first outside the United States.

Gen. Paul V. Hester, Pacific Air Forces commander, told The Associated Press the Raptors will provide him with options to face all contingencies.

The Air Force classifies the F-22A as a “transformational combat aircraft that is effectively invisible to threats, cruises at supersonic speeds (and) is highly maneuverable.”

The fighters evade radar detection much like B-2 bombers and can perform both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. Eventually, F-22A Raptor squadrons will be based permanently at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska; Holloman AFB, N.M., and Hickam AFB in Hawaii.

Each Raptor cost $360 million, including research and development costs, making it among the world’s most expensive jets.

The deployment comes as Okinawa officials had expected less training activity from Kadena-based jets.

As part of a bilateral pact signed in May, flight training of Kadena-based F-15s is to be relocated to six Japanese air force bases on Japan’s mainland. The move was designed to lighten the heavy U.S. military presence on Okinawa.

U.S. officials said no specific threat prompted the F-22A deployment. According to Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it’s designed to compensate for lessened deterrence power in Asia due to U.S. operations in Iraq.

Yoritaka Hanashiro, Okinawa Governor’s Office director general, criticized the deployment as going “directly against the effort to reduce the burden of local communities,” which had been looking forward to dispersing F-15 training off Okinawa.

Mitsuko Tomon expressed the same objection Wednesday. She is mayor of Okinawa City, which, with the towns of Kadena and Chatan, host the air base.

“With no prospect in sight yet for reducing the burden on the local communities,” Tomon said, “this further growth of operations at the air base increases the fears of our residents.”

Kadena Town Mayor Tokujitsu Miyagi called the F-22As’ arrival “disappointing and disheartening.” He said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told him of the deployment on Tuesday and 18th Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Harold Moulton confirmed it in a Wednesday morning phone call.

“Very disappointing,” Miyagi said, calling the F-22s deployment “an extreme nuisance to the local communities.”


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