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Missile-armed F-22 fighters launched again today as distant Russian bombers vectored toward Hawaii

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                                An F-22 fighter intercepted a Russian “Bear” Tu-95 bomber off Alaska in 2019.


    An F-22 fighter intercepted a Russian “Bear” Tu-95 bomber off Alaska in 2019.

Armed Hawaii Air National Guard F-22 fighters scrambled again today as Russian “Bear” bombers headed for the second time toward Hawaii as part of an ongoing Russian naval and air exercise several hundred miles west of the Aloha State, a U.S. official said.

Two of the stealth fighters took off from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and did not intercept the Russian turboprops, which likely, as before, did not continue on a path toward Hawaii, according to an account of the launch.

“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 said this evening in an email.

Three F-22s and a KC-135 were launched last Sunday when Russian Bear bombers were first spotted taking a similar directional approach to Hawaii.

In the earlier event, the Russian planes, which also can have an anti-submarine warfare role, never came close to Hawaii’s Air Defense Identification Zone. The Russian aircraft are “at least going out far enough (from an airbase) that it required the F-22s to be scrambled,” according to an official.

A Russian spy ship, meanwhile, is stationed north of Oahu in international waters while some number of other Russian warships conducting the exercise are still more than 300 miles west of the main Hawaiian Islands in a rare show of naval capability by Moscow relatively close to the Aloha State.

On Sunday three missile-armed Hawaii Air National Guard F-22 fighters and a KC-135 refueling tanker were launched from Hickam when Tu-95 or Tu-142 Bear bombers or anti-submarine warfare turboprops that were part of the exercise were detected vectoring toward Hawaii but still a very long distance off.

There were no intercepts of the propeller-powered aircraft in either case. Pacific Air Forces said Monday that the F-22 Raptors in the first launch conducted “an irregular air patrol and the situation resolved, prompting the fighters and a KC-135 Stratotanker to return to base.”

Russian officials said the exercise off Hawaii is its largest drills in the Pacific since the end of the Cold War and involves surface ships, anti-submarine aircraft and long-range bombers, CBS News reported Tuesday. At one point the flotilla was off Midway Atoll. A U.S. official confirmed it is the largest such Russian exercise to be held this close to Hawaii in a long time.

“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 reported. “The exercise had been planned but was moved closer to Hawaii in response to the Russian exercise.”

The Russian naval and air drills — which coincided with Wednesday’s summit in Geneva between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin — are 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.

A Russian auxiliary general intelligence ship, or AGI, operating in international waters north of Oahu is likely the same one that appeared off Hawaii in May and briefly delayed a missile defense test late that month as it loitered off Kauai, an official said.

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