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Rapid Raptor moves JBER F-22s closer to the fight

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Jones, 3rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron weapons load crew chief, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, secures a Guided Bomb Unit-32 joint direct attack munition to an MJ-1 lift truck during a Rapid Raptor exercise April 23, 2014, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Maintainers from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, arrived prior to the Raptors to setup their equipment for prompt weapons loading. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft/Released)

Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Jones, 3rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron weapons load crew chief, secures a Guided Bomb Unit-32 Joint Direct Attack Munition to an MJ-1 Lift Truck during a Rapid Raptor exercise April 23 at Eielson Air Force Base. Maintainers from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson arrived on C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft prior to the F-22 Raptors to setup their equipment for prompt weapons loading. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Peter Reft)

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- The Rapid Raptor capability measured in the past three Polar Force exercises enables F-22 Raptors to arrive on scene with a single C-17 Globemaster III and their maintenance and munitions crews to load weapons onto aircraft, bringing them to combat ready status - ready to move, refuel and rearm - in 72 hours or less.

The point is not that the jets can deploy quickly, Pacific Air Forces Commander Gen. Hawk Carlisle noted when the capability first entered testing last fall. That is a skill tested every time a jet takes off on schedule.

The point is that PACAF jets are no longer limited to well-established bases with commissaries and neat lodging reception desks that potential adversaries have known about, studied and mapped for decades.

No longer are 3rd Wing jets limited to traditional theater security packages at fixed installations in the Pacific, in built-up places like Guam or Okinawa.

Now potential enemies might know the Raptors have left Alaska, but it suddenly becomes much harder to discern where they've gone. Everything the fighter jets need can now skip with them to any place with a long enough runway.

In short, the technique allows smaller detachments of U.S. fighters and airlift aircraft to perform short-term deployments at a reduced cost and with a smaller footprint than traditional expeditionary forces. Raptors have increased agility in their time spent outside of aerobatics and aerial maneuvers, with more elasticity in where they can park and re-arm.

Deployment schedules, mission tasking and supply chains can now be shorter and more flexible. Commanders can shape the adversary's response plans, provide realistic first-strike capability and enable follow-on operations with a degree of credibility only possible when the adversary doesn't know exactly how the deployment will develop.

If jets, no matter how technically advanced, tactically skilled and strategically sound in the air can leap only from well-known base to well-known base, their first-strike threat is limited by their deeply-rutted travel patterns. That has fundamentally changed for the Raptor.

Commanders can inject uncertainty into adversaries' strategies by forcing new targeting challenges and squeezing the critical, brief window of time an adversary has to respond.
No concept, however, is brilliant until actually practiced. This spring's last Rapid Raptor exercise marked the end of another multi-day blitz of loading airlift planes and prepping stealth fighter jets in the middle of the night, as C-17 and F-22 take-offs on JBER dusted the tarmac and turned theory into thunderous reality.

Airmen from the 703d Aircraft Maintenance Squadron in full chemical protective suits launched jets and led patrols in the wake of a simulated attack. The aircraft landed at Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks, Alaska, a simulated bare-bones runway with no supplies, no amenities - no toilets, spare jet fuel or ammunition - and carted their equipment onto the runway. Airmen loaded weapons on the underside of the fighter jets and the F-22s, which had just proved they could land "anywhere," were soon ready to fly anywhere else.

The ability to use the Rapid Raptor innovation, developed by JBER's 3rd Wing in concert with the 477th Air Force Reserve Fighter Group, will allow PACAF to shape the future of 5th generation fighter strategy for multiple combatant commanders.

This time, instead of deploying around the globe in a matter of hours with little notice and no outside help, they did it all a few hours north.

Next time, the roar of 3rd Wing jets could echo just about anywhere else.