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U.S. Air Force to Dispatch F-22s to Europe

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James is making good on her threat to send the F-22 Raptor fighter jet to Europe for the first time in response to Russian aggression in the region.

Earlier this summer at the Paris Air Show, James said the U.S. may deploy a squadron of the fifth-generation stealth fighter jets made by Lockheed Martin Corp. to the continent in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea from the Ukraine and support for separatists in the country.

During a press conference Monday at the Pentagon, the secretary announced that Raptors would, in fact, be heading to the region "very soon," though as my colleague Richard Sisk reported at Military.com, she didn't say how many will be going and where they will be based.

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.

"The F-22 deploying to Europe is just a continuation of deploying it everywhere we can to train with our partners," he said. "We're going to be doing a training deployment, we'll operate with a number of different air forces."

Welsh added, "We'll get the F-22 into facilities that we would potentially use in a conflict in Europe, things like the bases where we do aviation attachments, to places where we do air policing missions.  They'll train with some of our European partners.  They're there primarily for an exercise, training with our European partners."

The F-22s will join a growing number of U.S. aircraft that have been sent the region as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, including the A-10 Warthog attack aircraft and F-15 Strike Eagles.

The Raptors flew their first combat mission last year as part of the opening wave of American-led airstrikes in Syria against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. The stealthy, highly maneuverable twin-engine fighter was likely used to penetrate and attack the country's sophisticated Russian-made air defenses, among other targets.

In its air-to-ground configuration, the fighter can carry pairs of GPS-guided 1,000-pound GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, as well as active guided AIM-120s Amraam and AIM-9s Sidewinder missiles. It was slated to be enhanced with upgraded radar and as many as eight small diameter bombs.

The aircraft's presence in Europe for the first time, however, is designed to send a message to Moscow with its air-to-air configuration, which includes six AIM-120 AMRAAMs and two AIM-9 Sidewinders.

From the equipment guide: A combination of sensor capability, integrated avionics, situational awareness, and weapons provides first-kill opportunity against threats. The F-22 Raptor possesses a sophisticated sensor suite allowing the pilot to track, identify, shoot and kill air-to-air threats before being detected.

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