In 2017, the United States will begin moving F-22s to northern Australia in an overt show of force to all of Asia. Amid rising tensions in the South China Sea over control of the Spratly Islands, the F-22 presence in the region is a bold statement. Additionally, Admiral Harry Harris, Commander of the US Pacific Command, stated during a visit to Sydney that he would like to see more “freedom-of-navigation” operations by the international community. These operations involve vessels sailing as close as possible to Chinese-claimed territories in an attempt to insure continued safe, unobstructed passage.
The F-22, a fifth-generation stealth fighter, is considered the best in the world. Moving a few of them to Australia in the coming months is sending a strong message that the West isn’t going to allow China to bully its way into ownership of the Spratlys and beyond.
Per the Sydney Morning Herald:
The US will begin flying its deadliest fighter plane, the F-22 Raptor, out of northern Australia next year, the most senior American commander in the Pacific has revealed as he warned of a need to show strength to deter aggression in the region.
During a visit to Sydney on Wednesday, the commander of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris, vowed the US would remain a major player in the region, saying its “enduring interests” would not “change on January 20th” – referring to the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration as President.
United States Pacific Command Admiral Harry Harris issues a firm warning to “an increasingly assertive China” amid territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Admiral Harris revealed that he had signed a 2017 agreement for Australia to host US military assets including the Raptors, which are feared and revered as the best fighter planes in the world, and will send a strong signal about US military presence in the region.
“I think that’s positive,” Admiral Harris told the Lowy Institute event.
The greater presence of US air power out of Australia follows on from the rotation of US Marines as a way to bolster the alliance and the American footprint at the southern edge of Asia – akin to a stationary aircraft carrier.
Strategic analysts widely see northern Australia as vital territory because it is mostly out of range of China’s ballistic missiles and is at the fulcrum of the Pacific and Indian oceans.
Euan Graham, the Lowy Institute’s director of international security, described the presence of the F-22s as “pretty high-end coercive signalling to China.”
And check out this video of an F-22 performing the “cobra flip” (1:35):
Image courtesy: US Air Force
Video courtesy: Youtube