French Air Force brings Rafale fighter jets to Hawaii for first time
FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii — Three Rafale fighter jets and 150 airmen with the French Air Force are flying training missions in Hawaii with American F-22 Raptors through Fourth of July weekend.
This is the first time Dassault Rafales, which are the French air and space force’s primary fighter, have flown in Hawaii. The deployment is part of France’s effort to reaffirm its role as a stabilizing force in the Pacific.
France’s air force and navy began using Rafales in 2001. The twin-engine jets are highly versatile, dubbed as “omnirole” fighters because in a single sortie they can be used for multiple missions, such as aerial reconnaissance, ground support, in-depth strikes and anti-ship strikes.
On Wednesday morning, six F-22 Raptors flew on a training mission with the French fighters, 1st Lt. Amber Kelly-Herard, spokeswoman for the 15th Wing at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, said in a statement. The F-22s are part of the 199th Fighter Wing under the Hawaii Air National Guard.
The French Air Force contingent, which arrived Sunday and will fly to the U.S. mainland Monday, includes two A400M transport planes and an Airbus A330 aerial refueling tanker.
The commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, Adm. Samuel Paparo, met Monday with two top French military officials visiting Hawaii to discuss the French military’s posture in the region, according to a U.S. Navy news release.
Paparo talked with Lt. Gen. Vincent Cousin, commander of air defense and air operations for the French Air Force, and French Navy Rear Adm. Jean-Mathieu Rey, the joint commander of French armed forces in the region.
The French military excursion to the Pacific dovetails with the upcoming deployment of Great Britain’s aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth and Carrier Strike Group 21 to the Pacific, a patrol that is expected to include transiting through the disputed South China Sea.
The U.S. welcomed the news that the carrier of its longtime ally will join in the Pentagon’s effort to maintain a free-and-open Indo-Pacific by sailing though international waters that China has with ever greater stridence claimed as its own.
Similarly, the French deployment “allows us to train with our allies for the newest engagement scenarios” and “contributes to strengthening our partnerships in the Pacific region to face the operational and strategic challenges that we will have to face together in the coming decades,” the French Air and Space Force said in a news release provided to local media this week.
The Hawaii stop is the second leg of a “projection of power mission from [France] to the Pacific,” the news release said.
The first phase was to deploy, within a 48-hour timeframe, airmen and aircraft to French Polynesia in the South Pacific. During those two days and the 24 hours following it, the air group conducted a raid that simulated forced entry into disputed airspace.
The mission’s seven-day first phase was intended to specifically demonstrate the French Air and Space Force’s capacity “to protect its citizens and territories, even from far away, by reaching Polynesia in 48 hours and conducting successive high-intensity air missions on site,” the release said.
The “swift, long distance deployment” to the Pacific “reaffirms our nation’s attachment to the concept of air freedom navigation and to the respect of international air law” and its “position of stabilizing power,” the release said.
After Hawaii, the French air group flies to Langley Air Force Base, Va., where it will take part in a July 9 commemoration of the 240th anniversary of the battle of Yorktown. American and French troops fought side by side in defeating the British in this last, decisive battle of the American Revolution.