A contingent of American F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters has arrived on NATO’s eastern flank to fortify allied airspace following Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
On Thursday, a total of six F-35s forward deployed east from Germany to bases in Estonia, Lithuania and Romania, as part of a broader shuffling of troops and equipment announced this week by President Joe Biden.
Biden has said that the movement is defensive in nature and that the U.S. has ‘no intention of fighting Russia’, but vowed to defend ‘every inch of NATO territory with a full force of American power.’ Ukraine is not a member of NATO.
‘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 General Jeffrey L. Harrigian, U.S. Air Force in Europe–Air Forces Africa commander, in a statement.
The fighter jets from the 388th Fighter Wing and Reserve 419th Fighter Wing had been operating out of Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany.
Photos show two of the advanced F-35 fighter jets landing on Thursday at Romania’s 86th Air Base, less than 100 miles from where the Danube River forms the border with Ukraine.
As well, an undisclosed number of F-35 fighters landed Thursday afternoon at NATO’s air base in Amari, near Estonia’s capital Tallinn, Estonian media reported. F-35 fighters were reported to have arrived also at NATO’s air base in Lithuania.
A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II assigned to 34th Fighter Squadron takes off at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany to reinforce NATO airspace on the eastern flank
Two U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters arrive at the 86th Air Base, Romania on Thursday. Aircraft and crews will work closely with Allies in the Black Sea region to reinforce regional security during the current crisis in Ukraine
Two of the advanced F-35 fighter jets, which had been operating from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, land at Romania’s 86th Air Base, less than 100 miles from where the Danube River forms the border with Ukraine
An F-35 is seen touching down in Romania. On Thursday, a total of six F-35s deployed east from Germany to bases in Estonia, Lithuania and Romania, as part of a broader shuffling of troops and equipment
US troops and equipment are moving to reinforce NATO allies close to the war in Ukraine and near Russia’s border
‘The F-35 provides unprecedented communication capabilities, command and control, and lethality for the combined and joint force,’ said U.S. Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa in a written statement.
‘These capabilities afford NATO leaders the flexibility to project power and assert air dominance in highly contested environments.’
Biden on Thursday directed that an additional 7,000 U.S. service members be deployed to Germany to enhance deterrence of Russia.
Most of the additional troops will come from the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division in Fort Stewart, Georgia, said a senior defense official speaking on background.
It means some 12,000 U.S. troops, total, have deployed or been ordered to deploy to Europe from the United States, and another 2,000 troops already in Europe who have moved closer to NATO’s eastern flank.
It brings the total US troop level in Europe to well over 90,000.
Biden announced the movement of U.S. troops and equipment eastward in Europe on Tuesday, saying the forces will assist with border reinforcement on NATO’s eastern flank and refugee processing, but will not intervene militarily in Ukraine, where Russia launched an all-out invasion early Thursday.
On Wednesday evening, the first 40 troops from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, known as the Sky Soldiers, arrived in Latvia from their home base in Italy.
The deployment is part of a movement of 800 American troops and equipment into the Baltics – the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which are all now part of the NATO alliance.
US soldiers are seen arriving in Europe after Biden ordered an additional 7,000 U.S. service members be deployed to Germany to enhance deterrence of Russia
AH-64 Apache attack helicopters with the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade prepare to depart Germany for Lithuania and Latvia to conduct training with NATO allies
A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II assigned to 34th Fighter Squadron taxis at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany on Thursday before taking off for Eastern Europe
On Thursday, a total of six F-35s deployed east from Germany to bases in Estonia, Lithuania and Romania
The small size of the Baltics deployment is tactically insignificant on a military level, but appears designed to reassure the NATO allies and serve as a ‘tripwire’ that assures an immediate U.S. military response to any aggression against the Baltic states.
Nevertheless, the deployment of U.S. troops to the Baltic states, which all share borders with Russia, is sure to infuriate Putin, who has long demanded that NATO withdraw allied forces from Eastern Europe.
‘I have authorized additional movements of U.S. forces and equipment already stationed in Europe to strengthen our Baltic Allies — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania,’ said Biden.
‘Let me be clear: These are totally defensive moves on our part. We have no intention of fighting Russia,’ he added.
‘We want to send an unmistakable message, though, that the United States, together with our Allies, will defend every inch of NATO territory and abide by the commitments we made to NATO,’ said Biden.
The Pentagon says the Baltics deployment is part of a broader shuffling of troops and equipment that will reinforce NATO allies close to the war in Ukraine and near Russia’s border.
Twenty AH-64 Apache attack helicopters will also deploy from Germany to the Baltic region, and 12 Apache helicopters will move from Greece to Poland. Above, an Apache prepares for flight in Germany
Apaches with the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade as they departed Germany for Lithuania and Latvia to reinforce allies
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin approved the movement of up to eight F-35 Lightning II aircraft from Germany to operating locations on NATO’s eastern flank.
Twenty AH-64 Apache attack helicopters will also deploy from Germany to the Baltic region, and 12 Apache helicopters will move from Greece to Poland.
‘These additional personnel are being repositioned to reassure our NATO allies, deter any potential aggression against NATO member states, and train with host-nation forces,’ DOD officials said in a written statement.
Biden has repeatedly said that Ukraine is nowhere near being able to join NATO and is also firm that US troops will not go there to help push back Russia.
Addressing Americans in a White House speech Thursday, Biden was firm about the US commitment to defending NATO allies.
‘As I made crystal clear, the United States will defend every inch of NATO territory with a full force of American power,’ Biden said.
The president added, however: ‘Our forces will not be engaged in a conflict with Russia in Ukraine.’
Early Thursday, a small force of 40 troops from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, known as the Sky Soldiers, arrived in Latvia from their home base in Italy, the US Embassy in Riga confirmed
Biden has said that the troop movement is defensive in nature and that the US has ‘no intention of fighting Russia’
Meanwhile, Russia is facing more resistance than Moscow anticipated in its invasion of Ukraine, including in its advance on the capital, Kyiv, officials said on Friday.
Officials from the U.S. and U.K. said Russian forces have not made the kinds of gains they expected in Ukraine, with one official saying Russia was ‘behind on Day 1 targets.’
‘The Russians have lost a little bit of their momentum,’ a U.S. defense official said. ‘No population centers have been taken. Russia has yet to achieve air superiority.’
The official noted that Ukraine’s air and missile defense capability is still working, though degraded.
‘In general we assess the Russian forces are encountering greater resistance than they expected,’ the official added. ‘Ukrainian command and control is intact.’
A British intelligence update from the Ministry of Defense noted that Lviv, in the far west of Ukraine, has sounded air raid sirens but officials have seen no evidence of strikes in the city.