Ready to Rumble?

f22kadena.jpgWhat kind of action can the U.S. Air Force F-22 pilots now in Japan expect to see in the coming weeks? Well, according to the Japanese defense ministry, there’s plenty of activity in its skies to keep an air-to-air fighter busy.

The F-22 deployment got off to a somewhat delayed start, since the fighters’ arrival in Japan had to be postponed to fix a software issue associated with the aircraft’s navigation equipment. But now, the U.S. Air Force has finally gotten the first of a dozen of its top-of-the-line fighters to Kadena air base on the Japanese island of Okinawa as part of the first excursion for F-22s overseas.

Lt. Col. Wade Tolliver, commander of the 27th fighter squadron the F-22’s belong to says that “to opportunity to fly it here in the Pacific with the F-15s (Eagles) and other aircraft is something we are looking forward to.” There’s certainly seem to be ample amounts of “other aircraft.”

Although somewhat historic, data compiled by the Japanese Air Self Defense Force shows that in the first part of the fiscal year, there’s been a lot of activity to keep air-to-air interceptors busy. In the six months ending September 30 – Japan’s fiscal year starts in April – the Japanese air force had to scramble 149 aircraft to patrol its skies because of potentially hostile intruders.

 What’s particularly interesting, and maybe reflective of a geopolitical shift in the region, is that the source and intensity of transgressions. Russian aircraft prompted Japan to scramble air-defense fighters 139 times during the six months, that’s more than anyone else.

Russia has historically been the largest source of responses, but the scale of activity in those six months is notable. The figure is almost 20% higher than the number of times Japan’s air force had to take to the air to deal with Russian aircraft during the entire 2005 fiscal year.

By contrast, encounters between Japan and its other large neighbor, China, are on a major downturn and headed to more traditional, low levels. In 2005, Japan scrambled aircraft 107 times to deal with Chinese flights. That was a spike from the modest number of incidents in 2003 and 2004.

There’s been a modest number, five to be exact, of Japanese fighters scrambled to deal with Taiwanese aircraft, too, as well as four such actions for “other” countries that weren’t further identified. Whether the U.S. Air Force, or the Japanese for that matter, will let the F-22 get in on any action remains to be seen. The 27th Fighter Squadron detachment will be in Japan 90-120 days, so opportunities will likely arise to join Japan’s F-15Js in some air-to-air patrols.

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