Regardless, on both occasions, the Russian aircraft in question never entered the Hawaiian air defense identification zone (ADIZ), nor were they ever actually intercepted.
Questions still remain about the first incident in particular, with still no official on-the-record confirmation of what the F-22s were scrambled to intercept and why it was not actually intercepted. Then there is the movement of a U.S. Navy carrier strike group — based around the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) — closer to Hawaii, apparently in response to the Russian movements. At first, this movement was not officially confirmed, but on June 17 the Navy quietly admitted that the Carl Vinson and her strike group were operating near Hawaii, without revealing when they had arrived, or why.
All of this activity comes ahead of a potential missile defense test, for which a navigational warning was issued on June 16. This appeared to indicate a planned missile defense-related launch from Kodiak, Alaska, today, June 21. Kodiak is home to the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska, a facility regularly used in testing by the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and its partners. Those warnings also indicated a potential impact or impacts of some kind at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, another facility routinely used in U.S. military missile and missile defense tests.
In addition, as of yesterday, a chain of MDA-linked radar tracking ships was also apparently on station in the central Pacific. They were arrayed along the exact same route as the one outlined in the navigation warnings, all but confirming they were preparing to monitor the test. The War Zone has reached out to the MDA for further information and the agency has forwarded our queries to the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
It is likely that the U.S. military, in general, is paying particular attention to the Russian naval movements in what seems to be the run-up to a missile test. It’s worth noting that among the Russian ships that has been active in waters around Hawaii in recent weeks is an apparent intelligence-gathering vessel, which reportedly appeared north of Oahu. According to the Honolulu Star Advertiser, this is the Kareliya, the presence of which disrupted a ship-launched SM-6 missile test in May, leading to it being rescheduled.
The uptick in Russian naval activity around Hawaii comes amid the meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin that took place in Switzerland last week. That summit came after after a diplomatic spat between Washington and Moscow, earlier this year, which saw the countries withdraw their respective ambassadors from each other’s capitals. The meeting between presidents saw a solution on that front, suggesting a degree of rapprocehment, but there is still plenty of disagreement between the two powers.
More generally, however, the Russian Navy’s increasing willingness to conduct long-range maneuvers closer to U.S. waters now seems to have added Hawaii and the central Pacific to its interests. In the past, for example, Russian naval activity close to the Continental United States saw the high-profile surfacing of the guided-missile submarine Omsk in the Bering Sea off Alaska, last year. The Omsk surfacing was linked to drills that were also described as some of the largest by the Russian Navy in the Pacific since the end of the Cold War, which parallels descriptions of the latest maneuvers, closer to Hawaii. A significant difference, however, is that the Omsk and the associated drills prompted proactive statements from the U.S. military and were confirmed by locals who witnessed the activity. Neither of this has really happened in this latest instance.
Meanwhile, a senior U.S. Navy officer warned last year that his service no longer considers the East Coast of the United States as an “uncontested” area or an automatic “safe haven” for its ships and submarines as a result of increased Russian Navy underwater activity in that area. It was only a matter of time until a similar reality came into play in the central Pacific.
As the Russian Navy increasingly ventures further afield with long-range exercises of this kind, it could be that the service’s warships, submarines, and aircraft become a more common sight close to Hawaii’s shores, too. Still, clear communications, or a total lack thereof, by the Pentagon in relation to this ongoing situation in the Pacific is what is most puzzling. It is possible that the Navy did whatever it could to make it a non-issue prior to the meeting between Biden and Putin, but now, after that meeting has occurred, the service’s lack of candor regarding what is a fairly unprecedented threat, at least in recent years, near Hawaii is baffling.
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