Atlantic Allies: F-22 Raptors in Europe
Raptors Arrive in Europe
On August 28, 2015, four U.S. Air Force (USAF) F-22 Raptors, one C-17 Globemaster III, and approximately 60 U.S. airmen arrived at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, marking the first-ever deployment of the 5th Generation F-22 to Europe. The training deployment, funded by the European Reassurance Initiative, was designed to bolster security and operational training partnerships between the USAF, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member states, and other U.S. partners.
“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,” said General Frank Gorenc, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa (USAFE-AFAFRICA) commander.
Inaugural ‘Trilateral’ Exercise
In December 2015, the U.S. hosted the RAF and the French Air Force (FrAF) for the inaugural ‘Trilateral Exercise’ at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. The joint training exercise, simulating adversary scenarios in highly contested operational environments, was the first time the American F-22, British Typhoon and French Rafale frontline fighters flew together.
The F-22s, Typhoons and Rafales flew against “aggressor” (mock adversary) aircraft replicated by USAF F-15E Strike Eagles and T-38 Talons. More than 500 people were involved in the exercise—approximately 225 USAF personnel, 175 from the RAF and 150 from the FrAF.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for the European air forces to get alongside the United States Air Force ... to start delivering true interoperability across Europe and across NATO,” said RAF Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford.
Raptors Return to Europe at RAF Lakenheath
On April 11, 2016, the USAF deployed F-22 Raptors, airmen and associated equipment to RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom, to conduct air training with other Europe-based aircraft. This marked the second, and to date largest, deployment of F-22s to Europe.
RAF Air Commodore Ian Duguid, head of the RAF’s Typhoon Force, used the occasion to highlight the special relationship between the USAF and RAF. “Our nations both bear scars from international terrorism, and today our air forces serve together on the front line against Daesh in Iraq and Syria,” said Duguid.
Two F-22s and a KC-135 also visited Romania for the first time, landing at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, Romania, on April 22. The USAF again highlighted the significance of deploying the 5th Generation F-22 to the European theater.
“The F-22 deployments to RAF Lakenheath and Mihail Kogalniceanu AB prove that European bases and other NATO installations can host fifth-generation fighters while also affording the chance for familiarization flight training within the European theater,” said the USAF in an April 25 news release.
The UK’s 5th Generation Future
The United Kingdom has also played an integral role on the Joint Strike Fighter, the world’s newest 5th Generation fighter, since the program’s earliest days.
Even before the final F-35 aircraft concept was chosen, British engineers and test pilots were making their mark on what would become a revolutionary capability. Under the desert sky at Edwards Air Force Base, California, a British test pilot left onlookers awestruck as he took the X-35B prototype out for its first flight.
The RAF and Royal Navy plan to operate 138 F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft. The F-35 Lightning II will be the backbone of Britain’s future carrier operations. As the first supersonic STOVL fighter jet, the F-35B will provide vital carrier-strike capabilities to the Royal Navy’s two new carriers – the HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.
The “Dambusters” Return
The RAF’s 617 Squadron “Dambusters” will become Britain’s first F-35B Lightning Squadron. The 617 Squadron will be a combined team of Royal Navy and RAF personnel who will fly from both land and sea, based from RAF Marham and deployed periodically on the Queen Elizabeth Class Carriers. They will return to the UK in 2018 from their current training base of United States Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina.
RAF Lakenheath was also selected as the first U.S. Air Forces in Europe base to host the F-35A. The USAF F-35As will be delivered to two fighter squadrons in multiple phases beginning in 2020. Each of the squadrons will have 24 F-35s assigned; totaling 48 aircraft assigned to RAF Lakenheath once full mission capability is achieved.