In the weeks leading up to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Russian president Vladimir Putin repeatedly called for assurances that Ukraine would never join NATO and demanded that NATO scale back its military presence in Eastern Europe. However, the United States rejected these claims and sent a contingent of F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters to support NATO's eastern flank.
Repositioning on NATO's Eastern Flank
On Sunday, the U.S. Air Force announced that the fifth-generation fighter aircraft had been repositioned in the Baltic Sea region to support the ongoing NATO Enhanced Air Policing missions along NATO’s eastern flank.
"The 388th Fighter Wing's initial six F-35 aircraft supported a variety of NATO's defensive air policing objectives while forward deployed," the U.S. Air Forces in Europe said in a statement. The Air Force added that after completing the patrol sorties, the aircraft returned to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. However, the 52nd Fighter Wing continues to support coalition objectives in Romania with F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft. According to reports, some of the 388th Fighter Wing's aircraft are now operating out of Romania's 86th Air Base, which is less than 100 miles from where the Danube River forms the border with Ukraine.
A dozen F-35A Lightning II jets from the 34th Fighter Squadron arrived at Spangdahlem on February 16. "The deployment of U.S. F-35As to Spangdahlem Air Base increases the defensive posture of the NATO Alliance and enhances our ability to operate together," said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, Commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa. "We are facing a dynamic environment and this deployment significantly enhances our support to NATO's defenses."
F-35 Patrols To Continue?
Six other F-35 aircraft from the U.S. Air Force were also deployed from Royal Air Force Lakenheath in the United Kingdom to Estonia and Lithuania to continue bolstering NATO's presence in the Baltic Sea region. The F-35s join the F-15E Strike Eagles that are currently deployed in Poland.
Lakenheath, which is located seventy miles northeast of London, received its first delivery of F-35A Lightning II aircraft last December. The base was selected in 2015 to host the first U.S. F-35A squadrons in Europe due to the United States’ close ties with the United Kingdom, existing infrastructure, and combined training opportunities.
In response to Secretary Blinken’s order, the U.S. Air Force’s European contingent continues to enhance NATO’s fighter capabilities in the Baltic and Black Sea regions.
Last week, President Joe Biden said the movement of troops and equipment in Europe was purely defensive in nature and that the United States has "no intention of fighting Russia." However, Biden also vowed to defend "every inch of NATO territory with a full force of American power."
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.