After teasing the possibility of Raptors deploying to Europe months ago, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James has confirmed to reporters that Raptor is indeed going to be sent to Europe as part of an ongoing initiative to reassure NATO allies of America’s commitment to their defense.
Secretary James made it clear that the move to send the F-22 to Russia’s front doorstep is part of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s “strong and balanced” approach to reminding Russia of the consequences of extra-border ambitions:
“Rotational forces and training exercises help us maintain our strong and balanced approach, and we will certainly be continuing those in the future... For the Air Force, an F-22 deployment is certainly on the strong side of the coin.”
Exactly what F-22 unit will be sent to Europe and where they would be based remains unclear, although General. Mark Welsh, the U.S. Air Force’s Chief of Staff noted:
“We’ll get the F-22 into facilities that we would potentially use in a conflict in Europe... This is a natural evolution of our bringing our best air-to-air capability in to train with partners... We have an aircraft with pretty advanced capabilities, and we need, and they would like, for us to be able to interoperate in multiple type scenarios... And being able to train side by side with them and do that kind of training is really, really important for us. And that’s what this is for.”
The Raptor’s inaugural long-term deployment to Europe (it has had a near constant presence in the Middle East) will most likely follow along the lines of what the Florida and Oregon Air National Guard have executed in their F-15C/Ds since Spring. As part of the ongoing Operation Atlantic Resolve, the Eagles hopped East from one key NATO base to another, training with local units along the way, before ending up at a temporary Eastern European air defense post.
Sending a detachment of Raptors to Europe also points to the possibility that things are not necessarily improving when it comes to Russian-NATO relations. If anything else, they are getting worse as forward deploying the world’s only truly operational 5th generation fighter to Eastern Europe is a card best held until needed.
Then again, the size of America’s air superiority fighter fleet has shrunk so much over the last 25 years that the Eagle community, made up of about 192 aircraft in total (about 25 percent of which are being used for training and development), may not be able to sustain these types of deployments alone while also meeting their homeland defense, regional deterrent and their many training goals. Additionally, both aircraft, the super complex F-22 and the aging F-15C, require large amounts of maintenance to keep them airworthy at any given time. As such, calling the F-22 to deploy to Europe may be an acknowledgement of an inevitable logistical reality as much as a strategic play.
Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.