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Video Above:F-35s in the Russia Ukraine Conflict

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

The US Air Force Europe has now sent more stealth jet 5th-generation air power to Russia’s border in the Baltics to help ensure that Putin does not contemplate further expansion beyond Ukraine into NATO territory.

F-35s & NATO

A statement from US Air Forces Europe said new F-35s were being sent to Estonia and Lithuania in support of NATO Air Policing.

“Royal Air Force Lakenheath’s 48th Fighter Wing deployed six F-35 aircraft to Amari Air Base, Estonia, and Siauliai Air Base, Lithuania, to continue bolstering NATO’s presence in the Baltic Sea region alongside F-15E Strike Eagles currently deployed to Poland,” a statement from US Air Forces Europe said.

Could US Air Force and NATO F-35s stop a Russian invasion by establishing air superiority and potentially destroying advancing ground forces from the air? There seems to be a clear possibility that it could.

Two U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II aircraft arrive at Siauliai Air Base, Lithuania, 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. (Courtesy Photo from Lithuanian Air Force)

Two U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II aircraft arrive at Siauliai Air Base, Lithuania, 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. (Courtesy Photo from Lithuanian Air Force)

The US Air Force alone operates roughly 300 F-35s, according to an interesting report last year in Air Force Magazine, and that is a force supplemented by now already operational amphib-launched F-35Bs and carrier-launched F-35Cs. The US Navy’s USS America, a single amphibious assault ship, has deployed with as many as 15 F-35s on board. 

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Ground based F-35s in the Baltics, combined with others perhaps placed in Poland, Germany or other parts of Eastern Europe, could be supplemented by carrier-and-amphib-launched F-35s from the Baltic Sea or Black Sea. 

Norway and the UK also have operational F-35s, and Poland, The Netherlands and Denmark are just now standing up their respective F-35 forces. Essentially, NATO already has enough operational F-35s to field a massive multi-national force of 5th-generation stealth fighters sufficient to potentially overwhelm Russian airpower. Global Firepower reports that the US alone operates 1,957 fighters, compared with Russia which is listed as operating 772 fighters. 

Ukraine, by contrast, is listed as having only 69 fighter jets and would seem to be greatly outgunned by Russia in the sky. That being said, Pentagon assessments as recently as Feb. 28 were clear that air superiority had “not” been established over Ukraine.

Su-57

Sukhoi Su-57

Even if the Russian Su-57 were comparable in capability to an F-35, and there is no clear indication that it could be, the Russian planes would be massively outnumbered and outgunned by a much larger US and NATO force of F-35s. Not only does Russia operate less than half of the fleet of fighter jets when compared with the US, but numerous reports in the Russian media say that Russia only has 12 5th-Generation Su-57s and plans to acquire over 70 in coming years.

A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II from the 34th Fighter Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, taxis to an aircraft shelter on Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, Feb. 16, 2022. The aircraft are equipped for a variety of missions to deter aggression and defend allies should deterrence fail. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Maeson L. Elleman)

A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II from the 34th Fighter Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, taxis to an aircraft shelter on Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, Feb. 16, 2022. The aircraft are equipped for a variety of missions to deter aggression and defend allies should deterrence fail. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Maeson L. Elleman)

Sun Tzu’s famous “mass matters” concept retains its relevance to this day, despite the extent to which the advent of new technologies such as long-range sensing and precision-guided weapons have changed warfare. Multiple squadrons of F-35s, dispersed yet networked across an expansive sphere of operations, would seem to be well positioned to establish air superiority in an air war against Russia. 

The ability of NATO to “network” a multi-national force of F-35s using its Multifunction Advanced Datalink (MADL) could greatly compound a fleet size advantage in the air as F-35s could share surveillance and targeting data across multiple squadrons dispersed across wide areas of terrain.

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest and President of Warrior Maven - the Center for Military Modernization. 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