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Video Above: Patriot Interceptor Missiles & F-35s Could Defend NATOs Eastern Flank Together 4

By Kris Osborn - President & Editor-In-Chief, Warrior Maven

US F-35s are conducting “air policing” missions from Estonia as part of a NATO effort to deter Russia from contemplating any possibility of expanding attacks beyond Ukraine. Launching from Estonia, an F-35 could easily hold areas of Russia at risk from the air, given that the F-35 has a combat radius of several hundreds miles.

F-35s, NATO, Russia & Ukraine

The Pentagon has also sent several KC-135 refueler tankers to Eastern Europe as well, a move which could greatly extend attack range and dwell time for F-35s should they be called upon for operational missions. 

The combination of F-35s and tanker aircraft throughout parts of Eastern Europe can clearly place the entire Eastern portion of the European continent at risk should Russian forces attempt to invade. F-35s could travel from the Baltic Sea down to the Black Sea and back, if supported by a tanker and provide air superiority across the continent.

Two U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II aircraft assigned to the 34th Fighter Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, land at the 86th Air Base, Romania, Feb. 24, 2022. Aircraft and crews will work closely with Allies in the Black Sea region to reinforce regional security during the current tensions caused by Russia's continuing military build-up near Ukraine. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ali Stewart)

Two U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II aircraft assigned to the 34th Fighter Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, land at the 86th Air Base, Romania, Feb. 24, 2022. Aircraft and crews will work closely with Allies in the Black Sea region to reinforce regional security during the current tensions caused by Russia's continuing military build-up near Ukraine. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ali Stewart)

While clearly operating with an ability to conduct air-to-air and air-to-ground combat attacks if necessary, the F-35s are also uniquely positioned to support ISR missions as well given the fighter’s sensors. 

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As a multi-role fighter, the F-35 functions as a stealthy attack platform armed with air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles and air dropped bombs. The aircraft is built to use stealth to evade enemy radar and conduct air-to-air combat or dogfighting as needed as well. However, at the same time, the F-35 is also engineered with a new generation of drone-like sensing technology and advanced computer processing such that it could monitor, zoom-in on Russian convoys, troops movements and weapons repositioning. 

Electro-optical and infrared cameras and long-range targeting systems could potentially identify launch points for Russian artillery and missiles and destroy them from the air. This would imperil Russia’s ability to bombard Ukraine from safer standoff distances without having to engage in direct confrontation.

Video Above: Would a "No Fly" Zone Create Massive World War III with Russia?

Air policing can also safeguard the skies and be on the lookout for Russian fighter jets approaching Ukrainian, Polish or Baltic air space. With its data link technology able to support real time transmission of intelligence information to other F-35s and ground control stations, F-35s conducting air-policing missions can pass along time-sensitive intelligence information to ground units tasked with preventing further Russian aggression.

Reinforcing NATOs Eastern flank may become a much more substantial and consistent area of US activity, given what many now regard as a completely new security environment in Europe.

“We're going to be open to discussing and to consult with our allies about what the new security environment is going to require of every NATO ally, including us. I think we're gonna stay open to having those discussions and deliberations,” a senior official said.

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 Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President, Center for Military Modernization