US Air Force officials visiting Lockheed Martin's F-22 Raptor production line in Marietta, Georgia, earlier this month revealed that the fifth-generation fighter will begin "frequent, but not continual" rotations into Guam's Anderson AFB, starting in the summer of 2008.

During the visit, Gen Paul Hester, commander of the Pacific Air Forces, said: "Guam is becoming more important," referring to the US military's efforts to balance China's growing military might.

Hester and other air force officials, including Lt Col Mike Shower, the newly named commander of the first Raptor squadron in Alaska, were visiting the plant to view Raptor number 4087 as it neared completion.

The aircraft is the 87th production Raptor and the first of 54 F-22s to be based in the Pacific Rim.

The Pacific Air Forces will ultimately have three of the seven anticipated Raptor squadrons. The 90th and 525th fighter squadrons at Elmendorf AFB in Alaska will have 18 aircraft each, and a squadron at Hickam AFB in Hawaii will have 18 of the fighters.

Hester said Elmendorf deliveries would begin in February, while Hickam deliveries are scheduled to take place in the 2010-11 timeframe.

The other four Raptor squadrons will be split between Langley AFB base in Virginia, which will have two full operational squadrons by year's end, and Holloman AFB in New Mexico.

Lockheed is expected to build a total of 183 of the $130 million fighters.

Source: Flight International