The French Air and Space Force is currently flying missions over Honolulu as part of a series of exercises in the Pacific. About 170 French service members arrived last week for Exercise WAKEA and have been training with members of the U.S. Pacific Air Forces.
Prior to arriving in Hawaii on June 26, the French air group was training in Tahiti. France, which maintains military facilities in Tahiti and New Caledonia, is the only European country with a permanent military presence in the region.
The exercise comes on the heels of a visit to Hawaii by France’s top commander in the Pacific in May.
Tensions have been ratcheting up across the region. In January, the Chinese government announced it had authorized its Coast Guard to open fire on any vessel in the South China Sea, a critical international trade route.
Several countries quickly put the new policy to the test, including France, which in March sent a nuclear attack submarine to the region and docked a navy warship in Vietnam, a former colony.
More recently, the Russian military held its largest exercise in the Pacific since the end of the Cold War, with drills taking place just off the coast of Hawaii. Nearby flights by Russian bombers prompted flights by armed Hawaii National Guard F-22s, but no confrontations.
“The WAKEA mission allows us to train with our allies for the newest engagement scenarios,” French Air and Space Force Chief of Staff Gen. Philippe Lavigne said in a statement about the air group’s Pacific tour. “Additionally, it 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.”
After leaving Hawaii, the French planes will begin their trip back to France, stopping on the way at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia for the commemoration of the 240th anniversary of the Battle of Yorktown, a battle in the American Revolution where French military assistance proved pivotal in the American victory.