The U.S. will deploy F-22 Raptors – its most advanced fighter jets -- to Europe as part of the NATO buildup to deter Russian aggression in the region, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said Monday.
"We will very soon deploy F-22s to Europe as part of the European Reassurance Initiative" to bring a persistent air, land, and sea presence to the region, James said.
The U.S. has already increased training exercises and rotational deployments in Europe but "an F-22 deployment is certainly on the strong side of the coin" with the "air-to-air capability" it brings in sending a message to Moscow, she said.
For security reasons, James said the timing of the deployment, and where the F-22s will be based, were not being disclosed, but having the F-22s on station will "demonstrate our commitment to the security and stability of Europe."
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, and Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, who will succeed Dempsey next month, all have recently stated that Russia and the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin pose an "existential threat" to the U.S. and its allies.
At a Pentagon news conference with James, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said the deployment would allow the F-22 pilots to interact and train jointly with the Eurofighter Typhoons which have been flying air patrols over the Baltic states.
"We have allies in Europe that have advanced capabilities," Welsh said. "We need and they would like for us to be able to inter-operate in multiple-type scenarios, and so being able to train side-by-side with them and do that training is really important."
The Lockheed Martin-made F-22s will be participating in Operation Atlantic Resolve, the effort by the U.S. to reassure NATO allies and partners of America's commitment "in the region in light of the Russian intervention in Ukraine."
The F-22s have been deployed in a limited role in the air campaign in Iraq and Syria, using their stealth capabilities and advanced sensors to assist strike formations.
"We provide increased situational awareness for other coalition aircraft while simultaneously delivering precision air-to-ground weapons," the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing said in a release last month that was attributed to an officer identified only as "Lt. Col. J."
"This allows us to reduce the risk to our forces while mitigating the risk to civilian casualties, one of our highest priorities in this conflict. It is a true multi-role aircraft," the release said.
--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com