USAF Operationally Deploying F-35A To Europe This Weekend For The First Time

The move is a big milestone for the program—and a message to Russia.

USAF

The USAF will send an F-35A contingent of unknown size to Europe this weekend. The Air Force says the deployment has been planned for some time, although the timing of it is thorny: It follows increased tensions with Russia over America's Tomahawk strikes in Syria, as well as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's chilly visit to Moscow. The mission will be the first of its kind for the USAF's F-35A variant of the Joint Strike Fighter.  

The jets will be from the 388th Fighter Squadron based at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The unit recently completed exercise Red Flag where they performed well and garnered somewhat outlandish praise from the press.

The deployment will likely mirror that of the F-22's first deployment to Europe, with follow-on deployments growing drastically in both scope and complexity. In the F-35's case, the jets will likely hopscotch around to some of the Western European countries that are slated to purchase it, giving their Air Forces a bit of a hands-on look at the aircraft's capabilities on their own turf. 

It is also possible that the jets could visit NATO allies in eastern Europe, such as Poland or Romania, a move that would be seen as more aggressive when it comes to US-Russian relations. The aircraft's ability to soak of electronic intelligence could be put to good use near the Russian border, but no matter where exactly they end up, it will be a highly publicized excursion to say the least.

With USMC F-35Bs already in the Pacific Theatre, the arrival of the A model in Europe will be considered a massive milestone for the F-35 program as a whole. Last summer, just the fact that the aircraft finally "crossed the pond" to an air show in Europe made persistent international headlines. 

With tensions on and around the Korean Peninsula reaching an all time high, a contingent of F-35Bs currently forward deployed to Japan has also made news by descending onto South Korea for joint training. Don't be surprised if the presence of these jets in South Korea are more heavily publicized in the coming days as well to coincide with the F-35s media blitz that is about to hit Europe.

TWZ will keep you updated as more info on the deployment becomes available. 

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com