By Tech. Sgt. Michelle Thomas
Hawaii National Guard
JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii (7/9/10) - The Hawaii Air National Guard's 154th Wing welcomed the first of its new inventory of F-22 Raptors here today during a dedication ceremony.
Two of the 20 jets that will be assigned to the wing's 199th Fighter Squadron rolled onto the tarmac and were greeted by a mixed audience of Guardsman, active duty and government dignitaries, to include Gov. Linda Lingle and Sen. Daniel Inouye.
"The 199th proves that National Guard forces are capable of maintaining a strategic presence with its active duty association and providing a great value to our nation and the state of Hawaii," said Gen. Craig R. McKinley, the chief of the National Guard Bureau.
Following a traditional Hawaiian blessing of Hawaiian water and ti leaves by Kahu Kordell Kekoa, Lingle said the arrival of the F-22 represents the "unique relationship between (the state of Hawaii) and the United States Air Force."
"To have these planes under the National Guard represents a statement by the United States government and the Air Force about the confidence that they have in Hawaii," Lingle said.
The Hawaii Air Guard is now the second Air National Guard unit to fly the Raptor with more units slated to convert to the fifth generation fighter during the next several years.
The Raptor performs both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions providing a diverse aerial combat capability. The two jets delivered here today are jets previously flown at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.; the remaining 18 aircraft will come from Langley Air Force Base, Va.
The F-22 Raptors replace the F-15 Eagles that the 154th's flying unit, the 199th Fighter Squadron, has flown since 1987. The F-22 is a single-seat, twin engine aircraft that uses stealth technology. It is designed to counter lethal threats posed by advanced surface-to-air missile systems and next-generation fighters equipped with launch-and-leave missile capability, according to Air Force fact sheets.
"These F-22 Raptors are the state of the art air superiority fighter and couldn't be located at a better place," McKinley said.
Its predecessor, the F-15, entered the Air Force inventory in 1975 and there is now parity between the F-15 and potentially hostile foreign air superiority aircraft. The F-22 provides the U.S. Air Force air dominance for the 21st century, with a "first-look, first-shot, first-kill" capability. The Raptor can see the enemy first.
Pilots from the 199th Fighter Squadron are now in the process of getting "trained up" for the conversion. Both full-time and traditional pilots will go through a four-month long transition course for experienced pilots transferring from other fighter aircraft types.
"It's not only an honor to me personally to be the first person to fly this great aircraft for the Hawaii Air National Guard, but to also be able to lead our folks during this transition is great," said Lt. Col Christopher Faurot, the squadron commander.
All of the squadron's pilots will attend the course at Tyndall. "Two have finished and hopefully by the end of 2012, the majority of our guys should have completed the training," said Lt. Col. James Sage, a Hawaii Air Guard fighter pilot and action officer for the conversion.
Once all of the planes arrive, the aircraft will be piloted by both the Guard and active duty members.
"Seventy-five percent of the mission will be manned by the 154th with the other 25 percent being covered by the active duty personnel," said Sage.
An active duty detachment squadron, the 19th Fighter Squadron, will complement the new flying configuration.
Sage said there are several benefits of having a unit fly the superior aircraft in what might be considered a remote location.
"We are a day closer to the fight," he said. "Logistically, we are a stopping off point for other F-22 units so we would be able to support any training and aircraft 'housing' requirements."
The conversion to the F-22 comes a year after legislation was signed stopping future procurement of the modern war-fighting machine. A final inventory of 187 jets will be dispersed, with the Guard gaining some of the final assets.
"It's an exciting time surely for Team Hickam," said McKinley. The arrival of the F-22 "speaks volumes for the importance of Hawaii's geographic and strategic position in our nation's defense."
McKinley also said that the arrival marks the first time an Air National Guard unit, the 199th Fighter Squadron, has taken the position of lead squadron in an associate flying unit.
"The Air Force is a seamless total force," he said. "Along with our Air Force Reserve and civilian, the National Guard and our active duty component form a very severe fighting force that can get the job done."
(TSgt. Cohen Young of DMA-Hawaii contributed to this report.)