A Hawaii Air National Guard F-22 Raptor takes off from Hickam Airfield, Hawaii, during Sentry Aloha, Jan. 19, 2024.

A Hawaii Air National Guard F-22 Raptor takes off from Hickam Airfield, Hawaii, during Sentry Aloha, Jan. 19, 2024. (Mysti Bicoy/U.S. Air Force)

FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii — Aircraft from California and Australia are in Hawaii through Wednesday conducting combat training with Honolulu-based F-22 fighters.

Hosted by the Hawaii National Air Guard’s 154th Wing, Sentry Aloha is tailored to provide realistic combat training, Maj. Michael Oliver, the exercise director and a pilot with the wing, said by phone Friday.

“This is a pretty tactical-level exercise,” he said.

The scenarios focus on building readiness for the F-22 pilots of the wing’s 199th Fighter Squadron and the Air Force 19th Fighter squadron based at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

Joining the exercise this year are F-35 Lightning II jets from Test and Evaluation Squadron Nine, Detachment Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Nine China Lake, Calif., sent F/A-18 Super Hornets and EA-18G Growlers.

The Australian air force flew in an E-7A Wedgetail, an aircraft used for airborne battle management.

The exercise involves about 712 personnel and 46 aircraft.

The drills, most of which take place in a vast airspace about 30 miles south of Oahu, are primarily defensive counter air and escort missions, Oliver said.

An example of the former is defending a “high-value airborne” asset such as the RAAF’s E-7, he said, adding it can also mean defending ground or maritime assets.

“We’ve also been escorting C-17s,” he said.

“In the first week we were actually able to integrate with an aircraft carrier and pretend-escort their carrier-borne aircraft in the airspace we train in,” he said.

“We also integrated and are still integrating with various destroyers from [U.S. Pacific Fleet],” he said.

The U.S. Navy and Australian air force working together is key to maintaining the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command mission to maintain “a free and open” region by working as a joint force, Oliver said.

Hawaii offers ample airspace to do that kind of aerial training, but its remoteness means fighter pilots have fewer chances to fly beside — or “against” — counterparts from U.S. bases or elsewhere.

“One of the limitations of being in Hawaii with the F-22s is that we don’t have any dedicated red air,” Oliver said, referring to so-called “aggressor” fighter squadrons that pose as enemy aircraft for training scenarios.

Sentry Aloha is an opportunity to gather enough fighters to assemble a temporary aggressor team, he said.

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Wyatt Olson is based in the Honolulu bureau, where he has reported on military and security issues in the Indo-Pacific since 2014. He was Stars and Stripes’ roving Pacific reporter from 2011-2013 while based in Tokyo. He was a freelance writer and journalism teacher in China from 2006-2009.

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