Three F-22 Raptors land May 17 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. Airmen have developed a plan to rapidly deploy F-22s to global hotspots using a C-17 to carry logistics gear. (Air Force)
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WASHINGTON — What began as an idea on a napkin in an Alaska bar is now a new Air Force capability that could change how F-22s are deployed to the Pacific and around the world.
In 2008, two F-22 pilots came up with the idea to use a C-17 to help up to four Raptors rapidly deploy to any base when needed. The Globemaster could be loaded with all the equipment and weapons for the Raptors, and deploy to a forward operating base within days, if not hours.
“Back in 2008, no kidding, a couple fighter pilots were sitting in a bar looking at the threat out there, at the proliferation of long-range surface-to-air threats and anti-access/area-denial threats,” said Col. David Piffarerio, deputy commander of the 477th Fighter Group. “We wondered how do we get inside of this, how to keep the enemy off their game while advancing U.S. power.”
After years of development, the Rapid Raptor package began operational test and evaluation after a successful August demonstration at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
The basics of the idea are that a fighter squadron and aircraft maintenance unit would use a combination of four F-22s and a C-17 with a tailored maintenance package and trained personnel. Maintainers and ground crews would load the C-17 full of maintenance equipment and weapons and fly with the F-22s to bases that are determined by combatant commanders. It would cut out much of the planning, logistics and overhead that is traditionally needed to schedule a deployment, giving the Air Force the ability to quickly place its most capable fighter at places in the globe not traditionally available.
“If we can get these short-duration, short-term and quick deployments of smaller packages, we can establish in countries that aren’t crazy about us having bases or establishing a permanent presence,” Piffarerio said.
And in a conflict, the quick placement of the Raptors can impact an enemy’s decision-making cycle, he said.
The idea was developed under Pacific Command, meaning that the F-22s assigned to that area could be rapidly deployed to counter threats in the Asia-Pacific. The Air Force already regularly deploys F-22s to bases such as Kadena Air Base, Japan.
The August demonstration was the third executed by the 3rd Wing and 477th Fighter Group in the past four years.
In addition to the pilots and maintainers at Elmendorf, pilots from the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, the Air Force’s Weapons School and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force’s Strategic Studies Group helped develop the concept.
It isn’t the first time the military has focused on a rapidly deployable package of aircraft. It is in use by some special operations forces, such as in some Army aviation units. But this is the first time a fifth generation aircraft can be rapidly deployed in this way, Piffarerio said.
Col. Lansing Pilch, 3rd Wing Operations Group commander, said the group is focusing on continuing to demonstrate this capability. The test report from the August demonstration has been sent to the Air Force’s warfare center for additional approval.
“Who knows where it will go,” Pilch said.
This idea is different from many other capabilities in the Air Force because it was developed from the bottom up, he said. Starting with the pilots in the bar, it included enlisted maintainers and lower-level officers who ran with it.
“If you are among the youngest airmen, I hope this encourages you to innovate,” Pilch said. “In today’s times, we’re going to listen.”
“It’s very exciting and very rewarding to see these concepts and ideas,” Piffarerio said. “When we saw those C-17s land and the ramp go down and ... the team spilling out of that thing. It was unbelievably exciting. We’re really happy with where we are at and where this is going.”