The USAF F-35A Lightning II fighter jets are at their first operational deployment to Italy.
Flying as “Tabor 51-56”, and supported during the last part of their flight by KC-135 tankers from the 100th ARW from RAF Mildenhall (using radio callsigns “Clean 01-04”) the first F-35A jets from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings, from Hill AFB, Utah, have landed at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on May 23, 2019. The first six aircraft were serials 15-5200, 15-5173, 17-5252, 15-5203, 15-5202, 17-5239. Six more F-35s are planned to land at Aviano on May 25.
The fifth generation aircraft and members of the 421st and 466th Fighter Squadrons will remain in Europe for several weeks and will participate in exercises and conduct training with other Europe-based aircraft as part of a TSP (Theater Security Package). It’s the second time Lightning II aircraft belonging to the 388th Fighter Wing, the USAF’s first combat coded unit flying the F-35, deployed to Europe: the first deployment was in April 2017 and saw the 34th Fighter Squadron operate from RAF Lakenheath, UK.
Just like Pacific TSPs, the European TSP is a periodic rotational presence of U.S. military assets in the European theater “capable of deterring adversaries and assuring partners and allies of U.S. commitment to regional security.”
Usually, aircraft taking part in TSP take part in regional exercises and perform re-deployments across the continent: in particular, the USAF F-35s will take part in the Astral Knight 2019 at Aviano, will attend the FWIT (Fighter Weapons Instructor Training) 2019 at Leeuwarden, Netherlands; will participate in the TLP at Albacete, Spain. It’s also worth a mention the fact that Hill AFB’s F-35s will be involved in the testing and evaluation of the Swiss Air Force future fighter program, known as “Air 2030”, even though, based on previous reports, it looks like as many as four Lightning II will arrive at Payerne in June directly from the U.S. (hence it won’t be the current deployment to support Lockheed Martin in the Swiss competition).
Noteworthy, the 421st FS is the newest F-35A squadron and this is their first deployment with the multi-role stealth fighter.
“The entire 421st ops and maintenance team are extremely excited for this deployment,” said Lt. Col. Richard Orzechowski, 421st Fighter Squadron commander in a public statement published by USAFE. “As the final 388th Fighter Wing squadron to transition to the F-35A, we’ve been able to leverage the experience of the 4th FS and 34th FS and take the squadron on the road just six months after getting our first jets. We are really looking forward to continuing the cohesion built with our allies and partners. It is a real privilege to get the seasoning, training and life experiences for our 388th and 419th FW Airmen.”
“It’s a great honor to be part of another milestone for Hill (AFB) and the F-35 community,” said Maj. James Russell, F-35 pilot with the 419th FW. “Locally, this effort is a demonstration of our Total Force Integration construct hard at work between the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings. On a larger scale, it’s a great opportunity to showcase our newest fighter platform to our partner nations and assure those nations of our continued support for their safety and security.”