Air Force F-35As Make First Europe Deployment

A “small number” of Air Force F-35As from Hill AFB, Utah, arrived at RAF Lakenheath, England, on Saturday, marking the type’s first overseas deployment. The aircraft and airmen from the 388th Fighter Wing and Air Force Reserve’s 419th Fighter Wing, both at Hill, will spend the next “several weeks” conducting air training in Europe as part of the European Reassurance Initiative. “This training deployment signifies an important milestone and natural progression of the F-35 program, allowing the Air Force to further demonstrate the operational capabilities of the fifth generation fighter aircraft,” according to an April 15 statement. “It also assists in refining requirements for eventually basing the F-35A in Europe, which is scheduled to receive the aircraft in the early 2020s.” The first USAF F-35 base in Europe is set to be Lakenheath. The aircraft dispatched were to conduct training “with other US and NATO aircraft based in Europe,” USAF said, promising more details after the detachment landed. “As we and our joint F-35 partners bring this aircraft into our inventories, it’s important that we train together to integrate into a seamless team capable of defending the sovereignty of allied nations,” said Gen. Tod Wolters, commander of US Air Forces Europe-Air Forces Africa, in a release. When the first F-22 deployment was made to Europe in 2015, four aircraft made the journey and visited a number of locations; both all-up bases and austere locations with limited support. Former Air Combat Command boss Gen. Hawk Carlisle told reporters in February the F-35 is part of the Global Force Management system, which makes airpower available to regional commanders on a rotational basis. Thus, it is “an operational asset. And we will use it accordingly.” Carlisle said he was “completely confident” in the F-35’s combat capability. Refueling aircraft from four different bases offloaded more than 400,000 pounds of fuel during the transatlantic flight to Europe. Also, C-17 and C-5 aircraft supported the deploying by moving maintenance equipment and personnel, states the release. (Watch video of the F-35As landing at RAF Lakenheath, England.)