Two F-35’s, the US Air Force’s newest fifth-generation fighter jet, landed on the airstrip at Palau International Airport yesterday morning, as part of the annual Cope North Exercise.

Two F-35’s, the US Air Force’s newest fifth-generation fighter jet, landed on the airstrip at Palau International Airport yesterday morning, as part of the annual Cope North Exercise, along with a C-130J Super Hercules.
The two combat fighters, which took off from Anderson Air Force Base in Guam, performed “combat turns” in the air above the airstrip before landing, conducting a hot-pit refueling, and taking off again.
The US Air Force personnel who were present during the landing were accompanied by a group of officers from the Japanese Self-Defense Force.
Cope North Exercise is an annual multilateral Air Force operation which takes place primarily in Guam and consists of aircraft fighter drills between the US Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. This year, Cope North is taking place between February 3 and 19, and will involve more than two-thousand personnel.
US Ambassador John Hennessey-Niland said that people in Palau will have the opportunity to see more aircrafts performing exercises at Palau International as well as Angaur Airstrip throughout Cope North, not only from the US but also from Japan and other countries. However, due to the pandemic, the pilots will only be performing “touch and go” exercises on the airstrips, without exiting the planes. Ambassador Hennessey-Niland said that the exercises are intended to serve as practice for both combat and delivering humanitarian aid, as well as for surveillance.
“The good thing about practicing is that if we ever need to bring humanitarian assistance here, we now know the airport, and what we have to do to cooperate with authorities and the government here in Palau, and with our partners in the Pacific,” said the Ambassador.
“Having the airplanes in the sky gives us great visibility over the waters and the oceans around Palau too,” he added.
President Surangel Whipps Jr., who was present at the landing, stressed that Palau is grateful to be part of the exercise, and that the drills will help to promote “freedom of the seas”.
Cope North also involves the deployment of eight Air Force engineers to Angaur Airstrip to repair a ten-by-ten crater.
According to Ambassador Hennessey-Niland, Cope North, along with other military exercise such as Defender Pacific and the deployment of Task Force Koa Moana, are all part of the Indo-Pacific strategy to “link the Pacific islands as closely as we can to each other, and with the US and its friends”.
He added that the strategy seeks to integrate all of the military’s domains (air, sea, land, and cyber), to provide for the defense and security of the US’ partners in the region, as well as to help with the economies and infrastructures of Pacific nations like Palau.
Although Cope North is primarily concerned with combat fighter exercises, next month will see more military focuses on maritime surveillance.
The Sea Dragon aerial monitoring program, for instance, will involve a collaboration between the US Air Force and the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency to provide surveillance of Palau’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
“We continue to work closely with Palau on maritime domain issues as well to stop unregulated and unregistered fishing . . . it’s all a team effort,” said the Ambassador.

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