US Air Force pilots, maintainers and support personnel from Hill Air Force base deployed with F-35A Lightning II fighters to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany.
The personnel from the active duty 388th and Reserve 419th Fighter Wing arrived at Spangdahlem on February 16 to bolster readiness and enhance NATO’s collective defense posture, the Air Force said in a statement.
“Our airmen and aircraft were ready to go. I’m thankful for their hard work, and all of the support we received from Hill Air Force base to get out the door,” said Col. Craig Andrle, 388th Fighter Wing commander. “This deployment proves we can provide our Air Force the capabilities of the F-35A anywhere in the world rapidly.”
While the deployment comes at a time of increased tensions on NATO’s eastern front, where Russia has gathered a large force ahead of a possible attack on Ukraine, it also comes at a time of increased discussion in Germany on the purchase of new fighter jets.
The new German government has expressed interest in accelerating a decision on which fighter, or a combination of them, would be a best solution for the replacement of the versatile German Air Force Tornado fighter. The decision is complicated by the fact that the nuclear-strike capable Tornado allowed Germany to meet its nuclear sharing-agreement commitments with the United States since the 1980s. Tornado is certified to carry and deploy B61 tactical nuclear weapons, 20 of which are said to be stored in Büchel, Germany.
To replace the Tornado, Germany first settled on buying 30 nuclear-capable Super Hornets, as well as 15 EA-18G Growlers to take over the other role of the PA-200 Tornado, namely that of electronic warfare. However, reports from the country increasingly point to a shift, in which Germany could go for the F-35, along with the Eurofighter for the electronic warfare role.
Announcing the deployment of F-35As to Spangdahlem, the US Air Force said the deployment would be “with the full cooperation of the German government.”
The 388th Fighter Wing is the Air Force’s first active duty combat-capable F-35A Lighting II unit. The F-35 combines stealth, sensor fusion and unprecedented situational awareness for a variety of missions.
“The deployment of US 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 US Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa and Commander Allied Air Command. “We are facing a dynamic environment and this deployment significantly enhances our support to NATO’s defenses.”
In addition to the F-35A deployment to Spangdahlem Air Base, on Feb. 14, 2022, eight F-15Es from the 336th Fighter Squadron, 4th Fighter Wing, Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C., deployed to Lask, Poland, and six KC-135 Stratotankers from the 100th Aerial Refueling Wing, RAF Mildenhall, U.K., deployed to Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
These deployments were conducted in full coordination with host nations and NATO military authorities, and although temporary in nature, they are prudent measures to increase readiness and enhance NATOs collective defense during this period of uncertainty.
Hill AFB is home to 78 F-35A Lightning IIs. The 388th and Reserve 419th Fighter Wings are the Air Force’s first combat-capable F-35A units, and fly and maintain the jet in a Total Force partnership, which capitalizes on the strength of both components.
“A group of Reserve F-35 pilots and maintainers have joined our active duty counterparts in a deployment to the region and stand ready to support increased security for our NATO allies,” said Col. Matt Fritz, 419th Fighter Wing commander. “We train specifically for moments like these to answer the nation’s call in short order.”
This is the second time that the 388th and 419th have deployed to Spangdahlem. The first was part of a Theater Support Package in 2019.