For the second time in as many weeks, armed Hawaii Air National Guard F-22 Raptors scrambled to monitor and track multiple Russian bombers that flew near the Pacific islands on Friday. The Tupolev Tu-95 (NATO reporting name “Bear”) four-engine turboprop bombers were reportedly taking part in Russia’s naval and air exercise some 500 miles west of the Aloha State.
What is Russia Doing?
It was the largest Russian naval exercise in the Pacific since the end of the Cold War and the Russian naval flotilla was reported to consist of warships from the Pacific Fleet including anti-submarine warfare (ASW) ship Admiral Panteleyev, the frigate Marshal Shaposhnikov, the corvettes Gromky, Sovershenniy and Hero of the Russian Federation Aldar Tsydenzhapov. Russian aircraft including Ka-27PL ASW helicopters and Tu-142MZ, an upgraded version of the Cold War-era Tu-95, were also deployed to take part in the naval and air exercises.
The U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force have been closely monitoring the movements of the Russian military, and that includes the deployment of Lockheed Martin F-22 fighters from the 156th Fighter Wing last Sunday. Two Raptors were initially launched and then joined by a third F-22 an hour later to track the movements of the Tu-95s.
On Friday, a pair of the U.S. Air Force’s fifth-generation stealth aircraft was again deployed from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to intercept the Russian turboprop bombers, which had been vectoring towards Hawaii. The bombers turned away from the Aloha State.
“Pacific Air Forces regularly perform air operations in airspace surrounding Hawaii. As a matter of policy, we don’t discuss tactics, techniques or procedures used by U.S. Air Force aircraft due to operational security requirements,” the Oahu-based command told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser via an email.
A Signal to Joe Biden?
The start of the Russian naval and air drills coincided with last week’s summit in Geneva, Switzerland between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. It was seen as a demonstration by Moscow of its ability to carry out exercises relatively close to Hawaii as Putin continues to seek greater prominence on the world stage.
Moscow has become increasingly brazen in recent months as it has continued to deploy the Cold War Tu-95 bombers over the neutral waters of the Bering Strait off the coast of Alaska; and in May, the Russian Vishnya-class auxiliary general intelligence ship (AGI) Kareliya (SSV-535) was operating in the international waters north of the Hawaiian island of Oahu. The presence of the Vladivostok-based spy ship, which is one of seven AGIs specializing in signals intelligence, briefly delayed a U.S. Navy SM-6 missile test.
The U.S. Navy responded to the presence of the Russian flotilla by moving the strike group certification exercise of the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) closer to Hawaii. This marks the first deployment of the Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II on the Nimitz-class carrier.