Two Air Force F-35As out of Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and a crew of supporting airmen arrived in Bulgaria Friday during the first European flying training deployment for the Lightning II, according to the Air Force. The aircraft and airmen will remain in the region for several weeks to conduct air training with other Europe-based aircraft.
The fifth-generation stealth tactical fighter aircraft arrived at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, after stopping at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, and also flying in Estonia. The deployment, funded in part by the European Reassurance Initiative, is expected to enhance the region's ability to host future F-35 fighters, according to EUCOM officials.
"This deployment clearly demonstrates our nation's contribution to the security and collective defense here in Europe," said Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, the commander of U.S. European Command and NATO’s supreme allied commander. "It shows we are serious about territorial integrity and will defend our interests with the most advanced capabilities our nation has to offer," he added.
The deployments are part of broader efforts to ensure peace and stability in Eastern Europe by allowing the F-35 crews to gain familiarity with the European theater.
The two fighters and the airmen are with the 34th Fighter Squadron, 388th Fighter Wing, and the Air Force Reserve’s 466th Fighter Squadron, 419th Fighter Wing, both at Hill AFB. A KC-135 Stratotanker and its crew were also deployed from Royal Air Force Mildenhall, roughly five miles from RAF Lakenheath. The KC-135 and its crew forward-deployed from the 459th Air Reserve Wing at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland.
The F-35 brings with it state-of-the-art sensors, interoperability and a vast array of advanced air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions. The jets will help maintain the fundamental territorial and air sovereignty rights of all nations, according to officials, with ability to counter current and emerging threats.
F-35A forward deployments will continue throughout Europe in order to strengthen the NATO alliance, while also allowing for unique training opportunities, according to Air Force officials.