Ahead of President Joe Biden’s Geneva summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia began its largest naval exercise since the Cold War – a naval and air exercise conducted 300 to 500 miles west of Hawaii, and including surface ships, anti-submarine aircraft, and long-range bombers.
CBS News reported on Tuesday that three missile-armed American F-22 Raptor aircraft had been dispatched from Hawaii to monitor the Russian bomber flights, but ultimately did not enter the Air Defense Identification Zone.
CBS further reported that a U.S. carrier strike group was positioned 200 miles to the east of Hawaii, conducting its own exercise. The group in question, led by the USS Carl Vinson, was planned in advance of the Russian exercise but was moved closer to Hawaii in response.
Captain Mike Kafka told CBS in an email that the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command was “monitoring Russian vessels operating in international waters in the Western Pacific.” Kafka stated that the U.S. Navy “closely track[ed] all vessels in the Indo-Pacific Area of operations through maritime patrol aircraft, surface ships, and joint capabilities.”
Kafka additionally stressed the lawful nature of U.S. Navy actions, stating that they complied with the international law of the sea and the air. He noted that Russia was obliged to follow the same conventions.
The reason for the flight of the F-22 Raptors has been unclear. According to command at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, the launch was prompted by a Federal Aviation Administration request for an “irregular air patrol.” The reason for this patrol was not made public.
F-22 fighters are available in Hawaii at all hours, theoretically to respond to any air threat to the Hawaiian islands.
This is not the first time in recent months that American and Russian militaries have traded rhetorical blows. In early 2021, one of the first foreign policy challenges of President Joe Biden’s presidency was dealing with a Russian buildup of troops and armor along the Ukrainian border – although the crisis was later resolved when the troop levels de-escalated.
And the two navies have kept a close eye on each other in the Pacific. In May, a missile defense test near Kauai was delayed when a Russian surveillance ship arrived near the island. The rescheduled test, pitting the Aegis missile defense system against an incoming ballistic missile, was not successful.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.