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Pentagon cap will not affect Raptors


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POSTED: Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Despite a cap on the production of the controversial F-22A Raptor jet fighter in the Pentagon's proposed $500 billion budget, the Hawaii Air National Guard will still get its 20 radar-evading supersonic jet fighters by November 2011.

“;Nothing is going to change,”; said Lt. Col. Chuck Anthony, Hawaii National Guard spokesman, yesterday following the release of Defense Secretary Robert Gates' announcement that the Pentagon wants to end the F-22 fighter jet and presidential helicopter programs run by Lockheed Martin Corp.

In his budget recommendation, Gates said he was going ahead with plans to buy four more of the Air Force's advanced F-22 fighter jets in a supplemental spending bill that will be forwarded to Congress. But he said he would cap the total number of F-22s at 187.

Military analysts have considered the F-22 Raptor an outdated weapon system designed for the Cold War. The planes cost $140 million each.

Anthony said the Hawaii's Air Guard's 199th Fighter Squadron will receive its first two single-seat F-22 Raptors in June 2010. By then the first group of Hawaii Air Guard pilots will have completed four months of training on the mainland.

Twenty facilities at Hickam will be renovated or built over the next five years at a cost of $145.4 million to house 20 Raptors and their crews. The Raptors will replace the F-15 Eagles that the Hawaii Air Guard has flown since 1987.

The jets will be flown and maintained by air crews belonging to the Hawaii Air National Guard's 199th Squadron and the active Air Force's 531st Squadron. It will be the only F-22 Raptor squadron in the Air Force led by the Air National Guard.

Traditionally, these hybrid units, like the C-17 Globemaster cargo jet squadron at Hickam Air Force Base, are 60 percent active Air Force crews and 40 percent Air National Guard personnel.

However, Hickam's new Raptor unit will be 75 percent Hawaii Air National Guard and 25 percent Air Force. The unit will be made up of 450 Hawaii Air National Guard pilots and technicians and 100 from the Air Force.

Of the 36 pilots assigned to the Raptor unit, 27 will be Hawaii Air National Guard officers, and nine will be from the Air Force.

The 62-foot Raptor flies at 1.5 times the speed of sound and can lock onto an enemy fighter 40 miles away and take it out with a missile before the other aircraft's pilot realizes he has been targeted.

Gates also proposed spending an extra $11 billion to finish enlarging the Army and the Marine Corps and to halt reductions in the Air Force and the Navy. He also announced an extra $2 billion for intelligence and surveillance equipment, including more spending on special-force units and 50 new Predator and Reaper drones, the unmanned vehicles that are currently used in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

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The New York Times contributed to this report.