The US Air Force has sent an undisclosed number of 5th-generation stealth F-35A aircraft to Germany as part of a clear mission to reinforce deterrence against Russia, strengthen interoperability with allies and reassure European partners that the US stands firmly behind NATO.
US Air Force officials have confirmed to Warrior Maven that US Air Force F-35s from the US have now arrived in Germany.
The force of F-35s have arrived at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany along with eight F-15Es and six KC-135 tankers. This development could arguably change the European balance of power in a significant way. Interestingly, the arriving F-35s are not from the first European-based US F-35 at the Royal Air Force’s Lakenheath AFB in the United Kingdom
“F-35A Lightning II aircraft from the 34th Fighter Squadron, 388th Fighter Wing, Hill Air Force Base, Utah are agile, versatile, high-performance, 9g capable multirole fighters that combine stealth, sensor fusion and unprecedented situational awareness. The aircraft are equipped for a variety of missions to deter aggression and defend Allies should deterrence fail,” a statement from US Air Forces Europe said.
“We are facing a dynamic environment and this deployment significantly enhances our support to NATO’s defenses,”Gen. Jeff Harrigian, Commander U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa and Commander Allied Air Command, said in the written statement.
This distance between the center of Germany and the center of Ukraine is listed at being roughly 940 miles, so it may be entirely crucial that the Pentagon has sent six tankers to support the F-35 force. Taking off from Germany, F-35s would need to travel over portions of the Czech Republic, Poland or Slovakia to reach Western Ukraine.
They will need to fly close to Belarus, a country which is allied with Russia and now hosts Russian forces for training. Depending upon where they take off from, F-35s will likely not have the combat radius to reach Ukraine, especially Eastern Ukraine, in a single sortie. They would need to refuel or stop and refuel on allied territory in Poland or Hungary. This might greatly enable more “dwell time” and mission effectiveness over Ukraine should F-35s be called upon to support Eastern Europe or even Ukraine.
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While the Pentagon and NATO have been clear that there are no plans and no intent to attack or challenge Russian forces within Ukraine, the mere presence of F-35s within striking distance arguably changes power dynamic and strategic calculus in a significant way. It could lead Russia to think twice about any invasion of Ukraine for a number of key reasons.
F-35 air dominance might be the greatest advantage NATO and the West might have against a large, advancing Russian land attack. While there are certainly many reasons why a NATO ground force, if properly reinforced with deployments, might succeed against a mechanized Russian attack, the prospect of F-35 air support greatly strengthens this posture. There are no clear available indications that Russian 5th-generation Su-57 stealth fighters could rival, match or even challenge US and allied European F-35s.
Of equal or greater importance, multiple public reports, including one from The National Interest, say that Russia now operates only 12 Su-57s and has plans to acquire 70 more in coming years. It would not be surprising if the Pentagon made efforts to ensure the F-35 force arriving in Germany and available with European allies was indeed large enough to greatly outmatch the available number of Su-57s, perhaps a reason why actual number of F-35s is not being announced.
Upon initial observation and thinking about a potential match up, it seems a well-sized, networked force of US and European F-35s would be positioned to destroy Russian air and ground forces. Long range sensors built into the F-35 could strike Russian ground forces from safe stand-off distances and be equally positioned to quickly destroy Russian 4th-generation aircraft.
Video Above: Could F-35s Deter Russia from Invading Ukraine?
It would seem clear that a strong presence of F-35s will make it much less likely that Putin would ever contemplate an attack on NATO or Eastern Europe. By extension, while NATO is clear it will not enter Ukraine in the event of invasion, the mere presence of many F-35s within striking distance might even prevent a potential invasion of Ukraine.
Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.