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US Air Force moving F-35A fighters to Baltic, Black Sea regions

US Air Force F-35As deploy to NATO's eastern flank
An F-35A Lightning II assigned to 34th Fighter Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, takes off at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, Feb. 24, 2022. Photo: US Air Force

The US Air Force has confirmed it is sending six F-35 Lightning II aircraft currently operating out of Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, to the Baltic Sea and Black Sea regions “in support of NATO’s collective defense.”

Assigned to the 34th Fighter Squadron, and originally from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, the fighters arrived in Germany on February 16.

They will now be supporting NATO’s Enhanced Air Policing mission for a period of time from forward operating locations at Estonia’s Amari Air Base, Lithuania’s Siauliai Air Base, and Romania’s Fetesti Air Base.

The US Air Force move comes on the day Russia began a full scale invasion of Ukraine after months of military buildup on the Ukrainian border and failed diplomatic efforts to avoid the current situation.

“We are facing a dynamic environment, and the deployment of F-35s to NATO’s eastern flank enhances our defensive posture and amplifies the Alliance’s interoperability,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, US Air Force in Europe – Air Forces Africa commander.

The F-35 provides unprecedented communication capabilities, command and control, and lethality for the combined and joint force.These capabilities afford NATO leaders the flexibility to project power and assert air dominance in highly contested environments.

In addition to the US Air Force, the Netherlands is also sending F-35 fighters to the region. While the Dutch deployment was announced well in advance of events on Thursday, the Dutch defense ministry said the deployment would be fast-tracked in light of Russia’s actions. Originally scheduled for March, the deployment of Dutch F-35s began today. This is also the first official deployment with the F-35A for the Royal Netherlands Air Force, which declared an initial operational capability for the aircraft in December last year. The F-35A will be supported by Dutch F-16s and an Airbus A330 tanker.