Twelve F-15 Eagle fighters and 200 airmen from the Florida Air National Guard began deploying to Europe this week as part of the U.S. and NATO buildup and training effort to deter Russian aggression.
All equipment and personnel from the 125th Fighter Wing based in Jacksonville, Fla., were expected to arrive in Europe by mid-April for a possible six-month deployment.
The F-15s will initially operate from Leeuwarden in the Netherlands and from Graf Ignatievo in Bulgaria, in the Operation Atlantic Resolve training exercise to “demonstrate U.S. commitment to the security and stability of Europe,” U.S. Air Forces Europe (USAFE) said in a release from Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.
Lt. Gen. Darryl Robertson, 3rd Air force and 17th Expeditionary Air Force commander, said it was the first deployment of an Air National Guard unit in Europe as a “theater security package.”
Robertson said theater security packages were designed to allow greater flexibility against evolving threats and were “another way the Air Force presents forces at the right time to the right combatant commander.”
Last month, the Air Force deployed to Europe 12 A-10C Thunderbolt aircraft and about 300 airmen from the 355th Fighter Wing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.
The deployment of the F-15s coincided with the first meeting between new Defense Secretary Ash Carter and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
In a statement on their Pentagon meeting Thursday, the Pentagon said Stoltenberg and Carter discussed “critical trans-Atlantic security issues, including Russian actions in Ukraine and the status of NATO assurance activities.” Stoltenberg met later at the White House with National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
Also on Thursday, the first 10 of a promised U.S. shipment of shipment of 230 Humvees arrived at Ukraine’s Borispol Airport outside Kiev.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who test drove one of the Humvees, said “I have just personally seen -- having been behind the wheel of the Humvee -- that it is an extremely effective, extremely powerful, extremely good military vehicle which Ukrainian air forces, Ukrainian special divisions, the Ukrainian army are waiting for today,” according to Ukrainian news reports.
The US has already sent non-lethal aid in the form of communication systems, Meals Read To Eat, night vision devices and other equipment to Ukraine. Congress has been pressing the Obama administration to provide “lethal defensive weapons systems.”
The United Nations has estimated that more than 6,000 people have been killed in fighting between Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine and the central government forces.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com