Air Force Moves F-35s from Utah to Germany as Ukraine Faces Possible Invasion

F-35A Lightning II prepares for deployment to Spangdahlem Air Base.
A crew chief from the 388th Fighter Wing marshals an F-35A Lightning II as they launch for deployment to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, Feb 15, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Kip Sumner)

A dozen F-35A Lightning II fighter jets and 350 airmen from Hill Air Force Base in Utah have arrived in Germany, marking the latest deployment of American aircraft to Europe as tensions mount between Russia and Ukraine.

The airmen from the active-duty 388th and Reserve 419th Fighter Wing arrived at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, on Wednesday, according to an Air Force Reserve statement.

Despite the recent movement of U.S. forces and military hardware into Europe, American troops are far outnumbered by the estimated 150,000 troops Russia has sitting on the Ukrainian border. U.S. officials have described the movement of American forces as an effort to reassure NATO allies that the U.S. will help defend fellow NATO members.

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Col. Matt Fritz, commander of the 419th Fighter Wing, said his airmen "train specifically for moments like these" and they're ready to join the growing show of force.

"A group of Reserve F-35 pilots and maintainers have joined our active duty counterparts in a deployment to the region and stand ready to support increased security for our NATO allies," Fritz said in a press release.

The F-35s sent out of Utah are the most recent deployment to Europe and the latest assistance the U.S. Air Force has provided to help bolster NATO's defenses against Russia.

On Monday, eight F-15E Strike Eagles from the 336th Fighter Squadron, 4th Fighter Wing, at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina deployed to Lask, Poland.

    Additionally, six KC-135 Stratotankers from the 100th Aerial Refueling Wing at RAF Mildenhall in the U.K. have been deployed to Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

    Airmen with the 435th Contingency Response Group, which helps set up makeshift airfields in combat locations, have also been relocated from Germany's Ramstein Air Base to Poland for possible assistance with Ukrainian evacuees.

    B-52 Stratofortress aircraft and personnel from the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, arrived at RAF Fairford in England on Feb. 10 for a scheduled training exercise, but also add to the growing American force in Europe.

    Earlier this month, C-17 Globemaster III transport planes from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, delivered supplies to help the U.S. with the Ukraine mission. Additional planes are coming out of Joint Base Charleston in South Carolina, a base spokeswoman told local media.

    Flight paths shared on social media by aviation enthusiasts have also shown large numbers of American surveillance aircraft in the region over the last week. These have included RQ-4 Global Hawk and MQ-9 Reaper drones, as well as Air Force RC-135V/W Rivet Joint planes used for electronic surveillance.

    This past weekend, three U.S. P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft flying over the Mediterranean Sea encountered "unprofessional intercepts" from Russian aircraft, the Navy told media outlets.

    Increased American flights in Europe come as military officials wait for a potential invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces.

    Despite Moscow claiming it was deescalating its forces, NATO reiterated this week that doesn't appear to be the case as an estimated 150,000 Russian troops are gathered near the Ukrainian border.

    Gen. Jeff Harrigian, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa and head of Allied Air Command, said in a press release that the F-35s will deter Russian actions as the threat of an invasion looms.

    "We are facing a dynamic environment, and this deployment significantly enhances our support to NATO's defenses," Harrigian said.

    This week, it was announced that hundreds of troops from the Army's 101st Airborne were deploying. In total, roughly 6,000 U.S. soldiers are expected to be in place in Europe in the coming days and will join troops from other NATO partners, including the United Kingdom and France.

    Thomas Novelly can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

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