Two F-22 Raptors were scrambled from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii on Sunday at about 4:00 p.m. local time. A third F-22 joined them about an hour later along with a KC-135 refueling tanker. 

This scramble, described as an “irregular patrol,” was initiated at the request of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which reported an “incident.” That terse message immediately got the attention of the news media. The Air Force would only say that it was responding to a request from the FAA and that it was not a training exercise. When peppered with requests for information by several media outlets, the FAA released only a short message when Public Affairs Spokesman Ian Gregor said only that “The FAA has a close working relationship with the military.”

Now it has been released that the stealth fighters were scrambled in response to a large Russian naval exercise conducted about 300 to 500 miles west of Hawaii. The exercise came just prior to President Biden’s first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Europe.

The Largest Russian Exercise in the Pacific Since the Cold War

An F-22 Raptor in Hawaii.
F-22 Raptor fighter jet launches from a U.S. airbase in Hawaii. (U.S. Air Force)

The Russian Navy exercise, which includes surface ships, anti-submarine aircraft, and long-range bombers is the largest Pacific Ocean exercise conducted since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Air Force scrambled the F-22s to monitor the situation. However, U.S. defense officials said the Russian bombers did not enter the Air Defense Identification Zone and were not intercepted.

The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command released a short statement saying that the FAA  requested the command “conduct an irregular air patrol and the situation resolved, prompting the fighters and a KC-135 Stratotanker refueling aircraft to return to base. We cannot discuss further specifics of the situation.”

The F-22 Raptor Guardians of Hawaii

The F-22 Raptors were part of the 199th Fighter Squadron which is a unit of the 154th Wing under the Hawaii Air National Guard. The 199th Fighter Squadron is a reverse associate to the active duty 19th Fighter Squadron. 

An F-22 Raptor
An F-22 Raptor flies in a routine training flight. (Photo by Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway/U.S. Air Force)

“Together [the squadrons] form the ‘Hawaiian Raptors’ which jointly operate the F-22 Raptor, the Air Force’s 5th generation fighter aircraft. Its combination of stealth, supercruise, maneuverability, and integrated avionics, coupled with improved supportability, represents an exponential leap in warfighting capabilities. The Raptor performs both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions allowing full realization of operational concepts vital to the 21st-century Air Force.”

The F-22 Raptor replaced the F-15C Fighting Eagle in the squadrons in 2010. 

The US Moves its Own Exercise in Response to Russia

“At the same time, officials said a U.S., carrier strike group headed by the USS (Carl) Vinson is operating about 200 miles east of Hawaii, conducting a strike group certification exercise,” CBS News reported. “The exercise had been planned but was moved closer to Hawaii in response to the Russian exercise.”

“U.S. Indo-Pacific Command is monitoring the Russian vessels operating in international waters in the Western Pacific,” said Navy Captain Mike Kafka, a spokesman for the command based in Oahu, in an emailed statement. “As part of our normal daily operations, we closely track all vessels in the Indo-Pacific area of operations through maritime patrol aircraft, surface ships, and joint capabilities.”

“We operate in accordance with international law of the sea and in the air to ensure that all nations can do the same without fear or contest and in order to secure a free and open Indo-Pacific. As Russia operates within the region, it is expected to do so in accordance with international law,” Kafka added. 

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