F-35s Deploy to Poland to Keep ‘Safeguarding’ NATO

Four U.S. Air Force F-35 fighters deployed to Poland on April 1 to help guard NATO’s eastern flank, keeping up a steady American presence in the region dating back to 2022 when Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. 

The F-35s came from the 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom, and landed at Lask Air Base in central Poland, about 200 miles from the Ukrainian border and a little less than 600 miles from Kyiv. There they will be part of the “U.S.’s continued support to safeguarding NATO’s Eastern Flank,” according to a U.S. Air Forces in Europe release.

A stream of USAF fighters have rotated through Lask over the last two years, including: 

That’s in addition to U.S. fighters that have deployed to Estonia, Romania, Iceland, and Germany in the past few years to bolster NATO air policing missions. A B-1 Lancer Bomber Task Force recently started at Morón Air Base, Spain, as well.

“Operating from forward locations allows U.S. Air Force Airmen to live, train, and operate alongside European counterparts while enabling NATO’s collective defense capabilities,” the USAFE release noted. “This capability is critical for a timely and coordinated response, if and when called upon.” 

The air war over Ukraine has heated up in recent months—the Atlantic Council noted March 31 that Russia has launched “the largest bombing campaign of the war” in recent weeks, while at the same time the Ukrainians claim to have shot down 13 Russian aircraft in February alone, including fighters and valuable airborne early warning and control aircraft. 

The intensity of the air campaign has even threatened NATO allies, as Poland claimed in late March that Russia violated its airspace with a cruise missile launched at western Ukraine. The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in particular don’t have robust air forces of their own and rely on NATO allies to conduct air policing missions in the region to deter Russia.