U.S. F-35s Forward Deployed To Romania, Estonia And Lithuania

F-35 forward deployed
Two U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II aircraft assigned to the 34th Fighter Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, land at the 86th Air Base, Romania, Feb. 24, 2022. Aircraft and crews will work closely with Allies in the Black Sea region to reinforce regional security during the current tensions caused by Russia's continuing military build-up near Ukraine. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ali Stewart)

The F-35As that were in Germany have been moved on the eastern flank on the day Russia has invaded Ukraine. Many NATO aircraft airborne. B-52 over Poland.

On Feb. 24, 2022, few hours after Putin ordered a massive attack on Ukraine (that we have covered here), six U.S. F-35A Lightning II among the 12 operating from Germany, were forward deployed to the Baltic Sea and Black Sea region, in support of NATO’s collective defense.

The aircraft, belonging to the 34th Fighter Squadron, from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, had arrived at Spangdahlem Air Base on Feb. 16, 2022 to bolster NATO’s eastern flank. They will operate “for a period of time” from Estonia’s Amari Air Base, Lithuania’s Siauliai Air Base, and Romania’s Fetesti Air Base: two F-35s for each of these forward operating locations.

The move had already been in the plans, considered that on Feb. 22, Secretary Austin ordered the additional movement of U.S. forces already stationed in Europe to continue Washington’s support for NATO Allies on the eastern regions. Among these, an infantry battalion task force of approximately 800 personnel, from Italy to the Baltic region; movement of up to eight F-35 Strike Fighters from Germany to several operating locations along NATO’s eastern flank; a battalion of attack aviation – 20 AH-64 helicopters – from Germany to the Baltic region; and an attack aviation task force – 12 AH-64 helicopters – will move from Greece to Poland.

“We are facing a dynamic environment, and the deployment of F-35s to NATO’s eastern flank enhances our defensive posture and amplifies the Alliance’s interoperability,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, U.S. Air Force in Europe – Air Forces Africa commander in a public release.

The U.S. Air Force F-35s are not the only Lightning II rushed to the region. The Royal Netherlands Air Force has also deployed two F-35As to Bulgaria as part of a larger deployment of forces that include also RNLAF F-16s. The deployment was initially planned for the March/April timeframe, but it was brought forward following the worsening of the crisis in Ukraine.

Generally speaking, we have observed a spike in the military air activity over Poland, Romania and Hungary, with lots of ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) aircraft, including British and U.S. Rivet Joints, U.S. E-8J JSTARS, and several tankers. Consider that along with those that can be tracked online, there are many more that we can’t see on flight tracking websites!

Two U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bombers launched from RAF Fairford: one, callsign NOBLE 41 flew over Scandinavia, while the other, callsign NOBLE 42, headed eastbound and orbited for some time over Poland, not far from the border with Belarus.

The route of the B-52H “Noble 42”. (ADSBExchange.com)

Last but not least, some images of the Ukrainian Su-27 that (probably) fled to Romania where it was intercepted by two Romanian Air Force F-16s were released.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.