US Air Force F-35s Deployed to Europe for the First Time; Middle East to Follow
The United States for the first time has deployed its Lockheed Martin F-35A Joint Strike Fighter to Europe.
The deployment of an unspecified number of the U.S. Air Force version of the stealth fighter to an undisclosed country (most certainly the United Kingdom) follows by three months the deployment of the U.S. Marines version of this fighter -- the F-35B -- to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan.
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The Marine F-35Bs have since conducted patrols and joint exercises with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force and the Republic of Korea Air Force.
A deployment of Air Force F-35As to the Middle East (probably Saudi Arabia) is a done deal and is expected to take place in a few years.
The Air Force said this first batch of F-35As from the 388th Fighter Wing (388FW) at Hill Air Force Base, Utah will conduct training exercises with NATO allies. The F-35s specifically belong to the 34th Fighter Squadron, the first operational F-35A Lightning II fighter squadron in the world.
The squadron was declared combat ready in August 2016 after transitioning from the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon in September 2015. The two other fighter squadrons in 388FW fly the F-16C.
The Air Force said the F-35As from the 34th Fighter Squadron will spend several weeks in Europe as part of the European Reassurance Initiative, the U.S. Department of Defense's (DoD) effort to strengthen military ties with European allies to help deter Russian aggression.
DoD described this training deployment as an important milestone and a natural progression of the F-35 program, allowing the Air Force to further demonstrate the operational capabilities of the fifth generation fighter aircraft.
It also assists in refining requirements for eventually basing the F-35A in Europe, which is scheduled to receive the aircraft in the early 2020s.
The F-35s are based at Royal Air Force Lakenheath or RAF Lakenheath, an RAF air station in Suffolk, England. RAF Lakenheath will eventually host 54 F-35As by 2022.