American F-35s deployed to NATO member states in Eastern Europe could help deter Russia from expanding its war in Ukraine to other countries. U.S. Air Force F-35As briefly operated from Estonia in the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Air Force units in Europe remain in the region to support allies.
The Air Force deployment to Europe includes a group of KC-135 aerial tankers that could extend attack range for F-35s and other fighter aircraft if needed for operations. The combination of F-35s and tanker aircraft throughout parts of Eastern Europe could help deter Russian forces from expanding operations outside Ukraine.
F-35s can conduct air-to-air combat or attack ground forces, but are also capable of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions with the fighter’s advanced sensors. The F-35 functions as a stealthy attack platform armed with air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles and air-dropped bombs. The aircraft is built to use stealth to evade enemy radar and conduct air-to-air combat or dogfighting as needed as well.
The F-35 is also engineered with a new generation of sensing technology and advanced computer processing to help monitor other aircraft and ground units. Long-range targeting systems could identify Russian artillery and missiles and destroy them from the air.
Air policing missions can also safeguard the skies and be on the lookout for Russian fighter jets approaching Ukrainian, Polish, or Baltic air space. The F-35’s data link technology is able to transmit intelligence information to other F-35s and ground control stations. This allows F-35s conducting air policing missions to pass along time-sensitive intelligence information to ground units tasked with preventing further Russian aggression.
Reinforcing NATOs eastern flank may become a much more important mission for American forces in Europe. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could result in a new security environment for the United States’ European allies.
“We're going to be open to discussing and to consult with our allies about what the new security environment is going to require of every NATO ally, including us,” a senior U.S. defense official said on Wednesday. “I think we're gonna stay open to having those discussions and deliberations.”
Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.