The US Air Force has announced the inaugural deployment of the Lockheed Martin F-22 to Europe to counter a “resurgent Russia”.
Service secretary Deborah Lee James announced the “training deployment” of the fifth-generation air superiority fighter at a State of the Air Force address 24 August at the Pentagon, but declined to say exactly when and where the F-22s would be in Europe.
The Raptor, which has until recently played primarily an air defence role stateside, is currently supporting combat operations against the Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq and Syria. It has been widely acclaimed as a “force multiplier” there, and will now train alongside the combat aircraft of joint partners and NATO allies, with the Eurofighter Typhoon singled out.
“Russia’s military activity in the Ukraine continues to be of great concern to us, and to our European allies. Our rotational forces and training exercises help us maintain our strong and balanced approach, and we will certainly be continuing these in the future,” says James.
“For the US Air Force, an F-22 deployment is certainly on the strong side of the coin, and so today we are announcing we will very soon deploy F-22s to Europe to support Combatant Commander requirements as part of the European Reassurance Initiative. For operational security reasons, we cannot share with you the exact days or the locations of this deployment.”
USAF officials discussed sending F-22s to Europe in June, but this is the first concrete step taken since the topic was raised.
The Raptor entered combat for the first time last September in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in the Middle East, but the aircraft is no stranger to intercepting Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-95 strategic bombers and Mikoyan MiG-31 interceptors off the Alaskan coast.
Deployment of the F-22 is a major step up for Europe from the relatively aged American A-10s, F-16s, F-15s and B-52s that are routinely deployed, and is meant as a strong warning to Russia.
The announcement comes just months after James labelled Russia the “biggest threat” to US security – a statement that was repeated in quick succession by leading US military generals and lawmakers.
The announcement also comes on the eve of the MAKS air show in Moscow, where Russia is showing off its latest military hardware including the supermanoeuvrable Sukhoi Su-35 and PAK FA – the nation’s answer to the Lockheed F-22 and F-35.
James echoed the recent statement of US defence secretary Ashton Carter in saying that America’s response to Russian interference in Ukraine “needs to be strong and needs to be balanced”.
The US has also ratcheted up its rhetoric against China in recent months, and is now on heightened alert with regard to North Korea. Both situations have links to the deployment of B-2 strategic nuclear bombers to Guam this month for “familiarization training activities in the Pacific region”.
Both James and USAF chief of staff Gen Mark Welsh declined to state how long the B-2s would remain in the region, or provide more details on the F-22 deployment.
This come as the air force prepares to induct the F-35A into the combat force at Hill AFB.
Welsh says the service has enough pilots and maintainers to achieve initial operational capability in August 2016, but he expects reaching full operational capability in 2021 will the bigger challenge without extra maintenance personnel form the A-10 community.