U.S. F-35s Forward Deploy for Baltic Sea Patrols

U.S. Air Force F-35s have joined Allies France and Belgium in Estonia enhancing the security of NATO airspace and ensuring a robust and integrated shield for Allied territory. File image courtesy: Airman Edgar Grimaldo]

U.S. Air Force F-35s have been forward deployed to join fighters from France and Belgium to conduct air patrols over the Baltic Sea Region, NATO announced Friday.

Deployment of the fighters taking part in NATO's Air Shielding mission along the Alliance's eastern flank comes days after President Joe Biden announced the U.S. intended to ramp up troop presence in Europe amid Russia's ongoing war on Ukraine.

The Air Force fighters were forward deployed to Amari Air Base (EEEI), Estonia, from Spangdahlem Air Base (ETAD), Germany, NATO said.

"The F-35 is an incredibly capable and versatile aircraft."

Lt. Gen. Pascal Delerce, deputy commander of the Allied Air Command

More than 130 Allied aircraft are on high alert across NATO airspace, NATO Air Command said Thursday.

"The F-35 is an incredibly capable and versatile aircraft. Operating alongside the other Allied nations in the Baltics, they are maintaining the integrity of the European airspace and directly contributing to the NATO Air Shielding Mission," Lt. Gen. Pascal Delerce, deputy commander of the Allied Air Command, said in a statement. 

While the air shielding mission is focused on NATO's eastern flank, "it retains the flexibility to orientate towards any emerging threat," Delerce added.

The deployments are the latest repositioning of U.S. military forces to the Baltic region in support of NATO, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February. 

Since the onset of the invasion, the U.S. has surged about 20,000 additional troops to Europe, increasing the presence of U.S. service members in the region to roughly 100,000, according to the Department of Defense.

Last week, during the NATO summit in Madrid, Biden announced that the U.S. would enlarge its troop numbers in Europe to bolster the NATO Alliance, including two additional F-35 squadrons deployed to Royal Air Force Lakenheath, U.K. 

"NATO is strong, united, and the steps we're taking during this summit are going to further augment our collective strength," Biden said. "To that end, today, I'm announcing the United States will enhance our force posture in Europe to respond to the change [in the] security environment, as well as strengthening our collective security." 

Friday, July 8, marks the 134th day of the conflict in Ukraine. Since the onset of the war in late February, the U.S. has committed at least $6.9 billion to Ukraine in security assistance and military aid.

U.S. military aid has included at least 20 Mi-17 helicopters, more than 700 Switchblade tactical unmanned aerial systems, 121 Phoenix Ghost tactical unmanned aerial systems, Puma unmanned aerial systems, as well as four air surveillance radars, commercial satellite imagery services, and electronic jamming equipment.

Kimberly is managing editor of FLYING Digital.

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