An airbase in the United Kingdom, Royal Air Force Lakenheath, just received a delivery of the F-35A Lightning II. Though based overseas, the fighter jets will be in U.S. Air Force service and flown by American pilots. They’re the first F-35 jets to be permanently stationed in Europe.
Gen. Jeff Harrigian, the commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe–Air Forces Africa, said in a press statement that “coalition forces train and fight in the most dynamic theater, requiring the most advanced platforms. The Valkyries are leading our F-35 integration across Europe. We’ve come a long way, and now we’re extending our reach as a coalition force and what we will accomplish together.”
The U.S. Air Force selected the Royal Air Force Lakenheath location in 2015, citing the U.S. Air Force and Royal Air Force’s very close ties, as well as Lakenheath’s training facilities and the opportunity to improve interoperability between the two nation’s flying branches.
The Air Force statement explains that “the F-35A is an agile, versatile, high-performance, 9g-capable multirole fighter that combines stealth, sensor fusion and unprecedented situational awareness.”
Furthermore, the F-35As “will belong to the 495th Fighter Squadron, which was nicknamed the “Valkyries” during a voting contest in 2020. The new F-35 squadron will consist of 24 aircraft, delivered in a phased approach.”
Valkyries’ epitomizes the force’s move toward more inclusivity and equally represents the fifth-generation stealth fighter’s air superiority,” explained Lt. Col. Ian McLaughlin, 495th Fighter Squadron commander in the Air Force statement. “Like the Valkyries themselves, we’ll be vital to determining the fate of our adversaries in the battlespace.”
F-35 jets are slowly making their way around the continent. In addition to the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force, F-35 variants are also in service with Norway, Poland, the Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Belgium, Finland. Switzerland may soon adopt the F-35 into service as well, despite pushback from local pacifist groups.
A slew of other countries outside of Europe also fly F-35 variants, including Australia and Japan. Canada, Singapore, and South Korea have also mulled F-35 acquisitions as well.
Though the F-35 platform is arguably the most successfully 5th generation stealth fighter to date, the fighter is no panacea. One of the drawbacks critics have cited is the fighter’s combat radius as an issue. To remedy the problem, the Pentagon is exploring an upgraded engine option for the F-35 jet and both Pratt & Whitney and General Electric are developing upgraded engines for the fighter.
Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and defense writer with the National Interest. A graduate of UCLA, he also holds a Master of Public Policy and lives in Berlin. He covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society for both print and radio. Follow him on Twitter @calebmlarson