The U.S. Air Force this month plans to deploy another squadron of A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft to Europe in support of NATO allies amid Russian military activity in the region, a top general said.
The 23rd Wing at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia will send a dozen more of the Cold War-era gunships, known as Warthogs, as part of a second theater security package, Gen. Frank Gorenc, the service's European commander, said during a briefing with reporters Monday at the Air and Space Conference. The plane will join a number of U.S. aircraft that have recently flown missions around the continent, including the F-15 Eagle and the F-22 Raptor.
"We've had the A-10s and F-15s all over the continent in many countries, 20-plus countries, that they engaged with ... and so they've been out and about doing particularly JTAC training -- joint terminal attack controller training -- and then to support Gen. Hodges with all of the rotation force that the Army is bringing in," Gorenc said, referring to the additional soldiers cycling through the region under the supervision of Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the service's European commander.
The U.S. brought the tank busters stateside in 2013 as part of a consolidation of bases and equipment in Europe. But it sent them back to the continent as part of a theater security package earlier this year -- including countries in the former Soviet bloc -- in response to Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and support for pro-Russian separatists.
The planes have been a welcome sight during training exercises involving NATO forces in the Czech Republic, Poland, Estonia and Romania, among other countries, according to crew members.
"It's pretty amazing because that's what this jet was designed for -- Russian tanks -- so it's pretty wild that we're helping them out for the original cause," Air Force Staff Sgt. Marcus Nugent, a crew member who works on the aircraft's avionics systems, told Military.com in June at the Paris Air Show, held outside the city at the historic Le Bourget airfield.
"They're small countries, they're small forces, so seeing us out there with them," he added. "They love it just as much as we love it -- maybe a little more -- so it's pretty awesome. The way Russia's been acting -- it keeps people at ease on both sides."
About 300 airmen and 12 A-10s with the 355th Fighter Wing in February began departing Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona for Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany as part of a security theater package.
The Air Force in March also deployed 12 F-15Es, a fourth-generation fighter made by Boeing Co., and more recently deployed two F-22 Raptors, a fifth-generation stealth fighter made by Lockheed Martin Corp., in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve.
Gorenc said the F-22s spent some time in such countries as Estonia and Germany and have since returned home. "I was eager to get the F-22 in theater to show and assure our allies that we're serious about our contribution to NATO,” he said. "It was a good thing to get it in theater.”
But he made a point to explain that the Raptors were there primarily to show support for NATO and to "make sure that our infrastructure could support the system, and then we did some training together" -- not to do "air policing."
While Russia has "closed the gap" in technology between the U.S. by developing more advanced surface-to-air missile systems and other anti-access weapons, Gorenc said he doesn't yet see a need to use the Raptors in the continent to conduct air policing.
"We normally handle the air policing requirement internally from permanently assigned forces in Europe," he said. "If there was a requirement, I mean, I have the full authority to go to Gen. Welsh and go, 'Hey, we'd really like the F-22s to do air policing.' We just don't see the need to do that now."
"I was eager to get the F-22 in theater to show and assure our allies that we're serious about our contribution to NATO. It was a good thing to get it in theater."
--Brendan McGarry can be reached at Brendan.McGarry@military.com.