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Stealth fighters combine airpower in new fighter exercise

A Hawaii Air National Guard F-22 Raptor taxis down the Honolulu Airport Runway Jan. 29, 2020, as an F-35A Lightning II takes off.

A Hawaii Air National Guard F-22 Raptor taxis down the Honolulu Airport Runway Jan. 29, 2020, as an F-35A Lightning II takes off. Lightning II aircraft, assigned to Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., temporarily relocated to Hawaii to join other flying squadrons in exercise Pacific Raptor. Every training mission of Pacific Raptor is carried out by a total-force team of Airmen from the Air Force’s Active, Reserve and Air National Guard components.

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii, – More than 600 Air National Guard members, reservists and active-duty Airmen completed a new fighter exercise Feb. 7, at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. The training featured the integration of the world’s most advanced, fifth-generation airframes. 

This first iteration of Pacific Raptor began on Jan. 23. It entailed twice-daily takeoffs of F-22 Raptors and F-35A Lightning IIs, followed by F-16 Fighting Falcons, which took on the notional role as adversaries during each training mission. 

Designated as Pacific Raptor 20-1, the exercise’s training activities focused on simulating air-to-air and air-to-surface combat sorties. 

“The most exciting and beneficial parts of Pacific Raptor were the ability to integrate with the F-22 and train to an advanced threat, replicated by F-16s,” said Maj. Justin Miller, 63rd Fighter Squadron pilot and exercise planner. “It was a fantastic opportunity to add multiple layers of complexity and degraded operations to our training and work to bring together ‘fifth-gen’ fighter assets to solve an advanced tactical problem.”

The F-16 aviators, also called ‘Aggressors’ from the 18th Aggressor Squadron, based out of Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, prepare pilots to face a variety of new combat scenarios. Not only do they specialize in emulating tactics that are likely to be encountered in a real battlespace, but their aircraft set apart by a coat of foreign-styled paint schemes.

While Hawaii-based Raptor pilots, comprised of Air National Guard and active-duty Airmen from the 199th and 19th Fighter Squadrons, normally train alongside other more traditional airframes, this is the first time they combined their capabilities with other Air Force stealth fighters while on the island.

“We designed the exercise so that everyone will walk away with a better understanding of the way their mission-design-series (fifth-generation aircraft) will integrate and complement the other,” said Miller, “as well as a common understanding of tactics, limitations and advantages of our respective platforms.”

Similar to the Hawaiian Raptors, the F-35As, assigned to Luke AFB, Ariz., are maintained and operated by total-force Airmen, to include reservists from the 944th Fighter Wing and active-duty Airmen from the 56th FW. 

All participating fighter airframes received in-air refueling from KC-135 Stratotankers from the 203rd Air Refueling Squadron to help pilots achieve critical training objectives. Replenishing fuel while flying is a fundamental necessity for fighter aircraft, as it extends the range and flying time indefinitely. 

Throughout the training, the 169th Air Defense Squadron provided additional layers of planning, tactics and command and control. Battle managers in the ADS have a unique capability to monitor the air space around the Hawaiian islands at all times, helping to shed light within the designated battlespace. At a moment’s notice, they can relay all available information to an on-scene commander and channel orders to pilots in the air. 

Pacific Raptor is designed to build off the pre-established momentum and infrastructure of a similar and long-standing exercise, Sentry Aloha, which concluded one week before Pacific Raptor began. By scheduling Pacific Raptor directly after Sentry Aloha, mission planners reduced travel and logistics expenses while maximizing progress toward annual training requirements. 

Unlike the Sentry Aloha, which has been led by the Hawaii Air National Guard’s 154th Wing, Pacific Raptor is planned and carried out by representatives from each participating fighter squadron. 

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