An F-22 Raptor stealth fighter plane sits at Joint Base Hickam-Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. F-22s are assembled in the Western Pacific Ocean for "Operation Pacific Iron," and exercise, which some regard as a show of force against China. Photo by TSgt. Jason Robertson/U.S. Air Force
July 16 (UPI) -- The largest assemblage of U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor stealth fighter planes is in the Pacific region for exercises analysts say is a strong message to China.
About 25 F-22s were deployed to three air bases on Guam and one in the Northern Mariana Islands from the Hawaii Air National Guard and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, for "Operation Pacific Iron 2021."
About 10 F-15E Strike Eagles and two C-130J Hercules cargo planes, deployed from Japan and western U.S. bases, are also involved in the exercise, Pacific Air Forces said in a statement this week.
The event, which involves about 800 Air Force personnel, is a "dynamic force employment operation to project forces into the USINDOPACOM's [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command's] area of responsibility in support of the 2018 National Defense Strategy which called on the military to be a more lethal, adaptive, and resilient force," the statement added.
Typical F-22 deployments include six to 12 planes, and the exercise is the largest show of force of F-22s in the Pacific area.
The fifth-generation aircraft, with stealth technology and numerous on-board sensor systems, is regarded as among the most advanced in the world. The exercise can be seen as a demonstration to China of U.S. capability to quickly mass fighter planes.
"The Pacific Air Force is demonstrating that it can deploy as many or more fifth-generation aircraft into the theater on short notice than [China] currently has in its entire inventory," Carl Shuster, former operations director at the U.S. Pacific Command's Joint Intelligence Center, told CNN.
"Demonstrating the U.S. Air Force's Agile Combat capability sends a strong deterrent signal to China and reassuring one to U.S. allies and partners. China will try to follow it closely."
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Dan Leaf noted that the exercise demonstrates the U.S. military's capability.
"If I'm China, I'd pay attention to the message, whether it's intended for them or not, because this is capability both in the aircraft, the F-22, and the flexibility and expeditionary nature of the U.S. Air Force that goes back to World War I, that they [China] can't duplicate," Leaf said.
"I'd take it as a demonstration of the legitimacy of the American commitment to the region, because messaging is one thing when it's just words," he added.
"But this is not just a statement, It's an investment in capability because it's not cheap to deploy 25 F-22s from two different bases to the Western Pacific."