The United States Air Force’s elite 27th Fighter Squadron—part of the 1st Fighter Wing—has deployed to Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, with a detachment of Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors.
The stealthy fifth-generation fighters—which can cruise supersonically without using fuel-guzzling afterburners—are in Europe to train with locally based U.S. units and allied air forces as part of the Pentagon’s European Deterrence Initiative. The idea is reassure NATO allies and deter any potential Russian adventurism in Eastern Europe.
“While in the European theater, the F-22s will also forward deploy from the United Kingdom to other NATO bases to maximize training opportunities, demonstrate our steadfast commitment to NATO allies and deter any actions that destabilize regional security,” the U.S. Air Force said in a statement.
Indeed, on October 13, a pair of Raptors arrived in Spangdahlem Air Force Base in Germany to train with U.S and German forces. The idea is to not only familiarize the F-22 crews with the intricacies of the European theatre, but also to make sure that allied air forces such as the German Luftwaffe and the French Armée de l'Air understand the Raptor’s capabilities and are able to work alongside their American colleagues flying fifth-generation fighters.
“The F-22 is America’s premier air dominance fighter, and our mission to Europe provides us an opportunity to train with our allies and strengthen our partnerships,” U.S. Air Force Col. Jason T. Hinds, 1st FW commander, said.
Meanwhile, the presence of the F-22s is designed to send a message to the Kremlin that the United States will defend its European allies and that Washington has the means to defeat Moscow’s most advanced aircraft and air defense systems. With its combination of speed, altitude, stealth and sensors, the Raptor is by far the most capable air superiority fighter ever built.
But the stealthy aircraft also incorporates a powerful air-to-ground strike capability—especially against advanced enemy surface-to-air missile systems. Indeed, the Raptor’s entire concept of operations is to “knock down the door” by eliminating any enemy air threats—such as the Sukhoi Su-35S Flanker-E—or air defenses such as the potent S-400 and S-300V4.
The F-22 arrived in England on October 8. The Raptors are stopping off in England after a six month combat deployment to Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, which is designed to eliminate the Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq and Syria. The remainder of the squadron has already flown home to Hampton, Virginia, where the 1st Fighter Wing is stationed at Langley Air Force.
“Today’s homecoming is great,” Hinds said. “But we won’t really be home until everyone returns from Europe.”
Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.
Image: Creative Commons.