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NEWS | Dec. 16, 2022

US, Australian Fighter Integration Soars to New Heights during PACIFIC EDGE 23

154th Wing Public Affairs - Hawaii Air National Guard

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii -- The Hawaii Air National Guard’s 154th Wing hosted its largest exercise on Hickam Field from Nov. 28 through Dec. 9 during the second iteration of PACIFIC EDGE.

The Pacific Air Forces training event, designated as PACIFIC EDGE 23, 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 (RAAF).

More than 1,000 participants attended to operate and maintain over 60 airframes. Each training day entailed mass launches of combat training missions, specifically tailored to expose fighter pilots with engagements against advanced airborne threats.

The exercise was built around an ongoing 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 the past three years, but this marks the first time several RAAF E-7A Wedgetails have 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 have been known to 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 saw the introduction to 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 multi-faceted and realistic training scenarios, tailored to equip warfighters with skills to confront advanced challenges throughout the Indo-Pacific Region.

Participants and planners alike overcame several environmental constraints to accommodate a high operational tempo, resulting in the completion of nearly 400 sorties within a period of one week. Hundreds of service members applied Agile Combat Employment practices to maintain aircraft effectively while facing facility constraints and ensure their aircraft can be seamlessly generated within the Honolulu International Airport’s shared runway.

Upon the first day of the exercise, Mauna Loa, a volcano on the island of Hawaii, began to erupt, complicating plans to operate a key air refueling aircraft out of a geographically separated unit on the island. The planning team resolved to request the support of a KC-135 Stratotanker and crew from Okinawa, Japan, to help supply the need for tanker gas throughout the second half of the exercise.

While exercises at this scale normally require a period of six months to prepare, planners managed to prepare for the event in roughly half the amount of time. At the peak of the exercise, which carried over into the ANG’s drill weekend, the joint and multinational participants wrapped up nearly 400 sorties within seven consecutive days.

“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.”

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