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September 26, 2006—The seventh, and seemingly final, of USAF's F-22 squadrons will be an Air National Guard-led total force unit based at Hickam AFB, Hawaii. Gen. Paul Hester, commander of Pacific Air Forces, told reporters at Monday’s AFA Air and Space Conference in Washington that when the aircraft arrive in five years, about three-quarters of the Raptor squadron’s personnel will be Air Guardsmen, the remainder active duty airmen. The aircraft will replace F-15As currently flown by the Hawaii Air Guard.

Hester went on to discuss some of the plans he envisions for PACAF, including pressing for an F-22 Raptor mission to Guam.

He said the F-22 probably will be ready for overseas deployments through the Air and Space Expeditionary Force system next summer, and he is lobbying for a Raptor mission to Guam. “If the Pacific is the right place” for the first F-22 AEF deployment, the fighters and their crews could stage at Andersen AFB, Guam and be available for flights throughout the region.

Later, the beddown of Hawaii ANG Raptors would put nearly half of USAF’s planned F-22 fleet in the PACAF area of responsibility. (In addition to the one squadron at Hickam, plans call for two F-22 squadrons each to be based at PACAF's Elmendorf AFB, Alaska and Air Combat Command's Holloman AFB, N.M., and Langley AFB, Va.)

A Place for Predator
Hester also said that PACAF could use Predator drones on the Korean Peninsula, but only on the Korean Peninsula. The MQ-1 is valuable for its intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance and strike capabilities, but “it’s a pretty slow rascal” that would be of little utility if the UAV had to fly in from Guam, Japan, or elsewhere to help defend South Korea. Currently, all available Predators are being sent to support combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Global Hawk is, well, Global
Not all UAVs are hindered by the Pacific theater’s “tyranny of distance” however. The high-altitude, wide-area Global Hawk intelligence drone is well suited for the region, and PACAF commander Hester said yesterday that seven RQ-4s will be based at Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base, beginning in 2009. The Global Hawk will not be able to fully assume the U-2 mission until around 2012, however, because the UAV’s sensor capabilities are still being improved and have some ways to go before they can supplant the legendary Dragon Lady.