F-22s are headed right on Ukraine’s doorstep: Last week, the United States Air Force deployed six Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors to Europe. The aircraft arrived at Royal Air Force (RAF) Lakenheath, England, on Thursday before traveling to the 32nd Tactical Air Base, Łask, Poland, to support NATO Air Shielding in the European Theater. The half dozen fifth-generation air superiority fighters were from the 90th Fighter Squadron, 3rd Wing, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, and will be supporting Air Shielding as the 90th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron.
Gen. James B. Hecker, the new head of the United States Air Force Europe, had hinted that the Raptors could be deployed to Europe at last month’s Royal International Air Tattoo in the UK.
“We’re bringing over F-22s… That are going to be coming over shortly, within a month, and they’ll spend four or five months over here,” Hecker told Air Force Magazine in an exclusive interview last month. “So we’re going to constantly cycle in fifth-generation in addition to what will eventually be two permanent [F-35] squadrons at Lakenheath. So we’ll be cycling it in here in the meantime.”
F-22 Moves: Migrating Warbirds
Just last month, multiple F-35 Lightning II aircraft from the Vermont Air National Guard were forward-deployed to Amari Air Base, Estonia, also to support NATO’s air shielding mission. Previously, the U.S. Air Force had moved in F-15s, F-16s, and even other F-35s from Vermont, to take part in that role. Additional aircraft have steadily taken part in Baltic air policing and enhanced air policing missions in Eastern Europe.
“What we’re going to do is just kind of have six, 12 kinds of airplanes that will come in here for four months, and we’ll do that for about a year or so, in addition with all the permanent aircraft that we have stationed here,” Hecker told Air Force Magazine last week. “And that will increase our presence here, and then we’ll have to readjust and see what this thing looks like a year from now, and then we can adjust as necessary.”
The NATO Air Shielding mission integrates Allied Air and Surface Based Air and Missile Defence units into the NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence system under NATO Command and Control, the U.S. Air Forces in Europe & Air Forces Africa announced, adding, “It will provide a near seamless shield from the Baltic to Black Seas, ensuring NATO Allies are better able to safeguard and protect Alliance territory, populations and forces from air and missile threat.”
This marks the first deployment of the F-22 to Europe to take part in air policing missions since Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in late February. The Raptor is among the U.S. Air Force’s most advanced fighter jets. It is able to reach supersonic speeds and can carry six AIM-120 radar-guided and two AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, while it is also armed with a 20mm cannon. Primarily designed for air-to-air combat, the F-22 can also be configured to conduct air-to-ground operations and can carry two 1,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions. The F-22 brings stealth into play, enabling it to protect itself and other assets.
A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.