Wednesday

16th Oct 2019

US increases airforce presence in Europe

  • F-22s, which operate in Syria and Iraq, have never been deployed in Europe (Photo: US Air Force)

The US Air Force will "very soon" deploy F-22 fighters jets to Europe, Air Force secretary Deborah James announced Monday (24 August) as part of a plan to increase Nato presence near Russia, while A-10 tankbusters arrived in Estonia on Saturday.

The US official did not specify the number of planes, nor the date and place of their deployment, but she said the operation is part of the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI).

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The ERI was launched in June 2014 by US president Barack Obama in the wake of the war in eastern Ukraine and Russian threats against eastern Europe.

"Russia's military activity in Ukraine continues to be of great concern to us and to our European allies”, James said at a press conference in Washington.

"For the Air Force, an F-22 deployment is certainly on the strong side of the coin”.

'Significant threat'

The decision comes a few days after US defense secretary Ash Carter told reporters that Russia posed a "very, very significant threat" to the US and that a "strong and balanced" approach was needed to face it.

This will be the first deployment of Lockheed Martin's F-22 Raptor in Europe.

The stealth fighter jet is currently used in operations against Islamic radicals in Syria and Iraq. Its deployment in Europe will be used to step up training and co-operation with other Nato air forces equipped with other jets.

"We’ll get the F-22 into facilities that we would potentially use in a conflict in Europe," Mark Welsh, the US Air Force’s chief of staff, said at the press conference with James Monday.

"This is a natural evolution of our bringing our best air-to-air capability in to train with partners”, he said.

Meanwhile eight A-10 fighters arrived in Estonia on Saturday.

The planes will be stationed for three weeks as part of the Operation Atlantic Resolve, launched in 2014 as a reaction to Russia's involvement in Ukraine and to counter Russia's increased military activity in European airspace.

US pilots and crew will train with Estonian and Finnish counterparts.

Also known by the nickname "Warthog" or "Hog", Fairchild Republic's A-10 Thunderbolt II is designed for attacks against tanks and armoured vehicles.

A-10s were permanently stationed in Germany until 2013 and the US started to deploy them again in Europe in March 2015.

In a recent report, the London-based NGO European Leadership Network (ELN) warned that Nato and Russia were “preparing for a possible confrontation”.

Deterioration

The deployment of F-22s and A-10s is taking place as the situation in Ukraine seems to be deteriorating, again.

Fighting between Ukrainian forces and separatists increased in recent days, with Russia accusing Ukraine of preparing a new offensive.

On Monday, while celebrating Ukraine's Independence day, president Petro Poroshenko said that "Russian armed groups near our eastern borders today exceed 50,000 men”.

"There are over 40,000 troops in occupied territories. Of them, there are 9,000 officers of Russia's regular armed forces who thus form units of the Russian army in our territory”.

Poroshensko later flew to Berlin where he met with German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Francois Hollande.

"We clearly declare that for today, unfortunately, Russia and Russia-backed militants pose the only threat to the restoration of peace and stability in the region," he said at a press conference there, adding that that three Russian convoys recentlyy crossed the country's border to the rebel-held areas of Luhansk, Donetsk and Debaltseve.

Merkel and Hollande, for their part, insisted on the implementation of the Minsk ceasefire agreement signed by the three countries and Russia.

"Everything must be done so the ceasefire can become a reality”, Merkel said.

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