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US Deploys Stealth Fighters In Japan

The F-22A Raptors
by Yoshikazu Tsuno
Kadena (AFP) Japan, Feb 17, 2007
The US flew its latest stealth fighter jets into Japan on Saturday for their first overseas deployment in a show of strength days after North Korea signed a deal on its nuclear programme. Two F-22A Raptors, which can evade radar detection at supersonic speeds, touched down on the southern island of Okinawa, strategically located near the Korean peninsula and the Taiwan Strait.

Ten more were due to arrive at the US Kadena air force base on Sunday for the temporary deployment, which is expected to include drills in Japan and South Korea.

The deployment of the jets and their 250 personnel, who are based at Langley in Virginia, has caused protests from North Korea and some residents of Okinawa, which shoulders half the US troops in Japan.

The arrival had been delayed by seven days due to bad weather and minor software hitches, according to the US military.

The military has denied a Japanese newspaper report that the deployment was held up so as not to interfere with negotiations with North Korea, which agreed Tuesday to shut down key nuclear facilities.

"This F-22 deployment is the latest example of the flexibility that US forces have to meet our ongoing commitments and security obligations throughout the Pacific region," an Air Force statement said.

The deployment followed North Korea's first ever nuclear test in October and a string of missile launches last July.

The planes will be deployed "somewhere in the ballpark of 90 to 120 days, so roughly until late April or early May sometime," said Colonel Anne Morris, spokeswoman for the US Forces in Japan.

The first overseas deployment "underscores the US commitment to the US-Japan security alliance," she said.

The US military says the Raptors, which were developed by Boeing and Lockheed-Martin and went into service in December 2005, are unmatched by any other aircraft in their ability to hit air or ground targets without detection.

"With the deployment, America's military strength in the Far East will be even greater," said Haruo Fujii, a prominent Japanese military analyst.

"This demonstrates the Pentagon's strong intention to achieve overwhelming military superiority in the region, and the prime target, of course, is the Korean peninsula."

North Korea had lashed out at the deployment, linking it to the nuclear talks.

In late January, the North's official Korean Central News Agency criticised the action and called the separate US deployment of F-117 Nighthawk Stealth fighters in South Korea "a dangerous military move" going against "peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue."

The North nonetheless agreed on Tuesday in six-nation talks in Beijing to shut down key nuclear facilities in exchange for oil shipments.

The deployment has also raised some hackles in Okinawa, which has a sizeable movement against the US forces.

The local assembly of Kadena town unanimously adopted a resolution against the deployment in late January.

Assembly member Koei Tanaka, who heads the town's committee on base issues, accused US forces of causing crime and noise.

"Residents here live with multiple fears and worries," Tanaka said. "Our patience has already reached a limit. We cannot tolerate more than that."

Okinawa, which was ruled by Washington from 1945 to 1972, has frequently seen tension with US troops, particularly in 1995 after three US Marines gang-raped a 12-year-old girl.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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