The U.S. sent F-35 stealth fighters to Europe over the weekend as part of the European Reassurance Initiative, an Obama-era program that supports U.S. allies after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea region.
After several weeks of joint training with other U.S. aircrafts and crews, the F-35A jets left Hill Air Force Base in Utah and landed at RAF Lakenheath on Saturday.
“This is an incredible opportunity for USAFE Airmen and our NATO allies to host this first overseas training deployment of the F-35A aircraft,” said commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe Gen. Tod D. Wolters in a statement.
“As we and our joint F-35 partners bring this aircraft into our inventories, it’s important that we train together to integrate into a seamless team capable of defending the sovereignty of allied nations,” Wolters added. “RAF Lakenheath will be the first overseas beddown location for the F-35A, this deployment allows our pilots and maintainers to learn more about the European operating environment and will improve our interoperability with partners in the region.”
In the statement, the Air Force said, “The introduction of the premier fifth-generation fighter to the European area of responsibility brings with it state-of-the-art sensors, interoperability, and a broad array of advanced air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions that will help maintain the fundamental sovereignty rights of all nations.”
Despite President Donald Trump’s past criticism of the cost of the F-35 jet, Secretary of Defense James Mattis has said the F-35 is “critical” for the Air Force and to the country’s relationships with its allies, adding that many of America’s allies “bet their air superiority on the F-35 program. It bonds us tightly together with them.”
F-35s aren’t the only U.S. Air Force jets to be sent to Europe in support of the European Reassurance Initiative. Other fighter jets such as F-22s, F-16s, F-15s, and A-10s were sent in the past.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama developed the multibillion-dollar European Reassurance Initiative in 2014.
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