The US is deploying F-35 jets to Estonia, putting the service’s newest fighter jets even closer to Russia’s doorstep.
F-35A stealth Joint Strike Fighters flew from a base in the United Kingdom to Estonia, which has an almost 200-mile-long border with Russia.
The advanced aircraft flew from Hill Base in Utah to Royal ’s Lakenheath airfield earlier this month.
Officials noted at the time that the also planned several “out and back” flights to other NATO nations that would help familiarize pilots with the region.
The move was seen by Estonian defense officials as a gesture underscoring the US commitment to its NATO partners.
While in Estonia, the F-35s will conduct training flights with aircraft from the US and allied .
The will also deploy F-35 jets to Romania, another NATO ally.
Both Estonia and Romania have been unnerved by Russia’s reunification with the strategic Black Sea peninsula of Crimea following a referendum in March 2014.
Fearful of a repeat of that scenario elsewhere, Western countries have moved to step up their presence in Eastern Europe to deter what they call the Russian “aggression.”
French tanks and vehicles, part of a NATO mission, are unloaded at Tapa base in Estonia, March 29, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
The F-35’s deployment to Europe is happening under the pretext of the so-called European Reassurance Initiative, the ’s catchphrase for a series of exercises with NATO allies meant to send a signal to Russia.
The deployment has also been viewed as a marketing tactic by the US to show off the aircraft’s capabilities to its European allies.
“The introduction of the premier fifth-generation fighter to the European area of responsibility brings with it state-of-the-art sensors, interoperability, and a broad array of advanced air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions that would help maintain the fundamental sovereignty rights of all nations,” the said in a statement this month.
The service has previously sent other fighter jets, namely F-22, F-16, F-15 and A-10, to Europe as part of the European Reassurance Initiative. Thousands of US have also been deployed in the continent on the same mission.
Moscow is wary of NATO’s build-up near its borders. In response, Russia has beefed up its southwestern capacity, deploying nuclear-capable missiles to its Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad bordering Poland and Lithuania.
The European Union and the US have imposed several rounds of sanctions against Russia.