The U.S. sent its most sophisticated aircraft to Romania on Monday for exercises aimed to enhance training with other Europe-based aircraft.
The largest deployment of the multirole fighter to the continent, officials said, is meant to "bolster the security of NATO allies and partners in Europe" while showcasing its flexibility to fly throughout the region.
The deployment near the Black Sea comes as U.S. commanders re-evaluate the military's role, reach and responsibilities in Europe. Russia's resurgence has forced Washington to rethink troop levels in Europe, eyeing a larger, permanent force that would help deter an unexpected fight against Russian forces.
"These aircraft have the ability to project air dominance quickly, at great distances, to defeat any possible threat," Lt. Gen. Timothy Ray, 3rd Air Force commander, said in a release.
The Raptors deployed to RAF Lakenheath, England, earlier this month, and will continue training in Europe until May. Their mission is funded through the European Reassurance Initiative — a Pentagon effort designed to allay European partners' fears about Russian aggression in the region.
USAFE-AFAFRICA officials did not say how long the stealth jets would be in Romania but added the deployment proves "European bases and other NATO installations can host 5th-generation fighters."
"It is important we test our infrastructure, aircraft capabilities, and the talented Airmen and allies who will host these aircraft in Europe," USAFE-AFAFRICA commander Gen. Frank Gorenc said. "This deployment advances our airpower evolution and demonstrates our resolve and commitment to European safety and security."
In August, the Air Force deployed four F-22s to Europe for the first time ever as part of the ERI. The fighters traveled to Germany, and also forward deployed with A-10s to Estonia, coming close to Russia's borders.
In recent months, the service has been using the F-22 often, "heavily tasked to do missions worldwide," Gorenc said of the August deployment and the F-22's role in Syria against the Islamic State group.
The Air Force also recently deployed a theater security package of F-15s to Iceland and the Netherlands under Operation Atlantic Resolve. The contingent of F-15Cs and about 350 airmen from the 131st Fighter Squadron, Barnes Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts, and the 194th Fighter Squadron, Fresno Air National Guard Base, California, will participate in exercises through September.
Oriana Pawlyk covers deployments, cyber, Guard/Reserve, uniforms, physical training, crime and operations in the Middle East and Europe for Air Force Times. She was the Early Bird Brief editor in 2015. Email her at email@example.com.