The Air Force is set to deploy its high-tech, fifth-generation F-35A fighter jets to Europe this weekend as part of an effort to assure U.S. allies there who are worried about Russian aggression, the Pentagon announced Friday.
The deployment includes a “small number” of the Lockheed Martin-built Lightning II fighters, which are being rolled out by the services after a long and costly development, to train for several weeks with other U.S. and NATO aircraft in Europe.
The Pentagon noted that the deployment had been long planned, meaning it was not a reaction to recent increasing tensions between the United States and Russia over a chemical weapons attack on civilians in Syria and a subsequent cruise missile attack launched by two Navy ships.
Yet the statement said the move is part of the military’s European Reassurance Initiative, which began three years ago after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine, and has taken on further significance as relations sour between Washington and Moscow.
The arrival of the F-35, often called the most technologically advanced fighter in the world, is another example of the United States beefing up its presence and activity in Europe.
It also comes the same week that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, after meeting with Putin in Russia this week, declared that “the current state of U.S.-Russia relations is at a low point.”
Aside from the Russian situation, the deployment is also a chance for the United States to show off the capabilities of the F-35, which has been the most expensive procurement program in Pentagon history.
Allies such as Great Britain are buying the aircraft and could be regularly operating in Europe early in the next decade.
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