US Air Force Permanently Deploys First F-35s in Europe in Response to ‘Resurgent Russia’

CC0 / / Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II
Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II - Sputnik International, 1920, 16.12.2021
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The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II has been plagued with reliability and cost overrun issues since the first aircraft began to be delivered to the US military in 2015. Over 730 F-35s have been built to date, with the programme having an estimated lifetime cost of more than $1.7 trillion – making the jets the most expensive weapon ever built.
The first US Air Force F-35s to be permanently stationed abroad have arrived in the UK, with a party of four F-35As touching down at their new home base at RAF Lakenheath in southeastern England on Wednesday.
The batch of four planes is expected to be complemented by 20 more in the coming months and years. The new F-35s are part of 495th Fighter Squadron, the Cold War-era unit at RAF Lakenheath that was mothballed in late 1991 but reactivated in October 2021.
“Our coalition forces train and fight in the most dynamic theatre, requiring the most advanced platforms,” Gen. Jeff Harrigian, commander of Allied Air Command, was quoted as saying of the planes’ delivery. “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 commander added, referring to the 495th Fighter Squadron’s nickname.
495th Fighter Squadron commander Lt. Col Ian McLaughlin said the F-35s would be certain to prove “vital to determining the fate of our adversaries in the battlespace” in the event of conflict.
The new F-35s join the 48th Fighter Wing’s existing fourth generation jet aircraft, including the 492nd Fighter Squadron’s complement of F-15E Strike Eagles, the 493rd Fighter Squadron’s F-15C/Ds and the 494th Fighter Squadron’s F-15Es. The F-35s are eventually expected to replace the F-15C/Ds.
Lockheed Martin announced in September that it eventually hopes to deploy some 450 F-35 Lightning II aircraft across 13 permanent bases in Europe in the coming years, with the UK, the Netherlands, Italy, Norway, Belgium, Poland and Denmark already fielding the aircraft or expected to field them in the near future.
Commenting on the deployment at RAF Lakenheath, The Drive suggested that the planes will be expected to “signal US resolve to a resurgent Russian military that is increasingly testing NATO members and allies around its western borders.”
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US air power coming out of RAF Lakenheath was used for the hit and run bombing mission against Libya in 1986. Aircraft from the base were also used during the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Despite successes against these countries, Western jets have yet to be tested in a combat scenario against a peer or near-peer competitor like Russia, whose arsenal includes a densely layered network of air defenses including permanent and mobile systems such as S-300s and S-400s.
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