JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii – The Hawaii Air National Guard’s 154th Wing hosted its largest exercise on Hickam Field Nov. 28-Dec. 9 during the second iteration of Pacific Edge.
The Pacific Air Forces training event culminated in a variety of fourth- and fifth-generation fighter and command-and-control aircraft from three U.S. service branches and the Royal Australian Air Force.
More than 1,000 participants attended to operate and maintain over 60 airframes. Each training day entailed mass launches of combat training missions tailored to expose fighter pilots with engagements against advanced airborne threats.
The exercise was built around a training partnership between the locally based F-22 Raptors, operated by the 199th and 19th Fighter Squadrons, and the RAAF No. 2 Squadron. The Australian forces have integrated their airborne early warning support capabilities with Hawaii F-22s for three years, but this was the first time several RAAF E-7A Wedgetails attended to support a cohort of fifth-generation aircraft at this size.
Multiple variants of F-35 Lightning IIs participated from the U.S. Air Force’s 65th Aggressor Squadron, the U.S. Marine Corps Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314, the U.S. Navy Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Nine (VX-9), and the Royal Australian Air Force No. 3 Squadron, filling the Hickam Field Raptor Ramp with more fifth-generation fighters than ever before.
Lt. Col. Steven Augugliaro, Pacific Edge exercise director, said Hawaii’s backdrop of open water and uninterrupted airspace provides an ideal training environment for a virtual battle space. Hawaii’s unique geographical features attract aviation units around the globe to practice dissimilar aircraft combat training and certify annual training requirements.
“It started with just a couple units trying to train amongst themselves, and it just grew more and more and became a PACAF exercise,” said Augugliaro.
Fourth-generation aircraft included U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 232, Marine Aircraft Group 11, and U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron.
In addition to the large influx of fighter airframes, supportive air-refueling and airlift assets from six other military installations attended to sustain daily flight and ground operations.
Pacific Edge 23 also introduced naval components to the simulated air battles, with a Royal Australian Navy’s guided missile destroyer, the HMAS Brisbane, joining the war games to increase interoperability and integration across multiple domains.
This large coalition-type venue provided multifaceted and realistic training scenarios tailored to equip warfighters with skills to confront advanced challenges throughout the Indo-Pacific Region.
Participants and planners overcame several environmental constraints to complete nearly 400 sorties in one week. Hundreds of service members applied Agile Combat Employment practices to maintain aircraft effectively.
On the first day of the exercise, the Mauna Loa volcano began to erupt, complicating plans to operate an air refueling aircraft on the island of Hawaii. A KC-135 Stratotanker and crew from Okinawa, Japan, helped supply tanker gas during the second half of the exercise.
While exercises at this scale typically require six months to prepare, planners did it in roughly half the time.
“What’s been accomplished here at PACIFIC EDGE 23 with a relatively short amount of time to prepare demonstrates how much can be done when the challenge is on the table and failure is not an option,” said Augugliaro. “This is the most fighters I’ve seen here at Hickam Field in my nearly 28 years of being a member of the HIANG. Now that the exercise is over, the focus is on getting everyone packed up and home safely to enjoy the holidays with their loved ones.”