More U.S. F-35As Deploy To Estonia, Lithuania

F35 and pilot
U.S. Air Force F-35As have forward deployed to bases in Estonia and Lithuania for NATO air policing missions.
Credit: U.S. Air Force

Six U.S. Air Force F-35As from RAF Lakenheath, England, forward deployed to Estonia and Lithuania Feb. 27 to further bolster the NATO air presence in Eastern Europe amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Three F-35As deployed to Amaris Air Base, Estonia, and the other three landed at Siauliai Air Base, Lithuania, where they will support NATO’s Enhanced Air Policing mission “for an extended period of time,” the U.S. Air Force said in an announcement.

F-35As from the 388th Fighter Wing that had deployed to the locations on Feb. 24 have now moved to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. These fighters, deployed from Hill AFB, Utah, “supported a variety of NATO’s defensive air policing objectives while forward deployed.” 

In addition to the F-35s, the U.S. presence forward deployed to NATO’s eastern front includes F-15Es in Poland and F-16s in Romania. Flight tracking websites show a constant presence of KC-135s, KC-10s and international tankers including RAF Voyagers, A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transports from multiple nations and A-400Ms from Germany across the region supporting combat air patrols over NATO nations.

Thirty-two U.S. Army AH-64 Apaches have also forward deployed to Poland and the Baltic region from bases in Germany and Greece.

Amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and increasingly threatening rhetoric to NATO and Western nations, NATO for the first time activated its response force. A senior U.S. defense official said the Pentagon was determining what forces would be deployed. The 40,000-strong force would be under command of NATO Supreme Allied Commander-Europe U.S. Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters. 

“This is an historic moment and the very first time the Alliance has employed these high readiness forces in a deterrence and defense role,” Wolters said in a statement. “They represent a flexible, combat-credible force that can be employed in multiple ways, and we are utilizing fully their inherent agility.”

Brian Everstine

Brian Everstine is the Pentagon Editor for Aviation Week, based in Washington, D.C. Before joining Aviation Week in August 2021, he covered the Pentagon for Air Force Magazine. Brian began covering defense aviation in 2011 as a reporter for Military Times.