Just days after Air Force Secretary Deborah James hinted at a looming inaugural F-22 deployment to Europe, four F-22A Raptors of the 95th Fighter Squadron out Tyndall AFB in Florida arrived over Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany. This marked the first operational deployment of F-22s to Europe in its decade-old operational career.
The four F-22s, along with a pair of spares that turned back after the four primary jets were well on their way, flew straight to Germany as a “TABOR” flight, utilizing aerial refueling tankers along the way. A C-17A Globemaster III from Travis AFB in California. packed with the squadron’s gear and about 60 airman, was dispatched to support the Raptors’ overseas mission.
The Raptor deployment is so far a fairly light one, with just four jets. It appears to fit some of the parameters of the Air Combat Command’s Rapid Raptor concept, in which a quartet of F-22s could be deployed anywhere in the world in 24 hours along with a C-17 full of their gear and support personnel. This concept has been drilled many times before, although not in the European Theater.
The concept is part of an initiative to quickly deploy America’s most potent combat capabilities to the forward edge of hostilities at a moment’s notice. With this in mind, if this F-22 deployment is a snap drill under the Rapid Raptor concept of operations, it will act as a message to potential enemies showing just how fast advanced U.S. air power can be in-theater if need be.
As to what the Raptors will be doing in Europe, General Frank Gorenc, the commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa stated:
“This inaugural Raptor training deployment is the perfect opportunity for these advanced aircraft to train alongside other U.S. Air Force aircraft, joint partners, and NATO allies... It’s important we test our infrastructure, aircraft capabilities, and the talented Airmen and allies who will host 5th generation aircraft in Europe... This deployment advances our airpower evolution and demonstrates our resolve and commitment to European safety and security.”
The miniature F-22 force now in Europe could be bolstered by more F-22s once the initial group has settled in, and like their F-15 compatriots that flew with multiple NATO allies throughout Europe before bedding down in Romania (where they remain today), the F-22s are likely do the same. There is already even a rumor that the Raptors may fly missions with European JAS-39 Gripens.
The execution of a Rapid Raptor-like deployment to Europe is an interesting choice for Pentagon. It does fit nicely into Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s “strong and balanced” approach to deterring Russian aggression and reassuring our European allies.
The fact of the matter is that a four-ship deployment of F-22s maybe quite symbolic and useful for international training, but it really is not a large threat to Russia. Nonetheless, a reminder that America has air combat capabilities for which Russia has no direct antidote, ones that the Pentagon is now willing to deploy at a moment’s notice to Europe, is a strong message to Moscow in itself.
Additionally, the F-22, although not perfect (by choice), has a renowned ability to enable other platforms via sucking up huge amounts of battlefield information, which gives even a handful of the stealthy, super-cruising jets the ability to enhance even the most meager force’s fighting capability.
The dispatch of just four F-22s to Europe also keeps a key playing card for the White House and the Pentagon off the table... for now. If things were to heat up, the arrival of a couple dozen or so more of the world’s most capable air dominance fighter on Russia’s front doorstep wouldn’t be a nuanced message. It would be much closer to a battle cry.
Photos via USAF
Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.