Air Force Activates First F-35 Squadron in Europe Ahead of Fighters’ Arrival

In a move more than five years in the making, the U.S. Air Force activated its first squadron of Europe-based F-35As at RAF Lakenheath, U.K., on Oct. 1, as the service prepares to deliver the first fighters in the coming months.

The 495th Fighter Squadron was activated exactly 30 years after it was designated as a fighter squadron in 1991. Just a few months after that, though, the squadron was inactivated.

In 2015, the Air Force announced that Lakenheath would be the first base in Europe to get the new F-35 fighter, and in September 2020, U.S. Air Forces in Europe announced it was reactivating the 495th under the 48th Fighter Wing.

The 495th will consist of 27 F-35s and around 60 personnel, according to a 48th Fighter Wing release announcing the squadron’s activation. The Air Force plans to eventually base a total of 48 F-35s at Lakenheath in two squadrons.

The first F-35s were originally slated to arrive in Europe in 2020, but construction delays bumped the activation to 2021.

Lt. Col. Ian D. McLaughlin assumed command of the 495th on Oct. 1. The squadron will be nicknamed the Valkyries, after the female figures in Norse mythology who choose who will live or die in battle. 

The F-35s are set to start arriving in December, U.S. Air Forces in Europe boss Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian told reporters at a media roundtable at AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference in late September, a timeline McLaughlin echoed in a statement released Oct. 1.

“Today is an exciting day. There has been a great deal of work done to get us this far, but there’s a lot more that needs to be done prior to getting jets this winter,” McLaughlin said. “The 495th has a proud history, and we’re excited to take the guidon forward to start building the foundation for [the] first USAF F-35As stationed in Europe.”

With American F-35s arriving in Europe for the first time, the Air Force will be able to integrate and operate with its partners in the region, who also operate the F-35, like never before, Harrigian said at the AFA conference.

“We’ve already got some pretty good plans as we start thinking about how we leverage that capability, particularly with many of our partners that already have F-35s in the theater. I really think it’ll be a truly important step as we continue to demonstrate the importance that the F-35 has baked into it from an interoperability perspective,” Harrigian said.

A number of American allies and partners have already received F-35s from Lockheed Martin, including the United Kingdom, Norway, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Israel. Switzerland announced in June that it would buy the stealth fighter as well. 

NATO Supreme Allied Commander Air Force Gen. Tod D. Wolters, speaking at an event in June, predicted that between the U.S. and its allies and partners, there will be 450 F-35s in Europe by 2030.