RAF LAKENHEATH, United Kingdom –-- Senior leaders from the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Air Force and the Royal air force gathered to highlight a significant F-35A Lightning II program milestone, April 19.
The representatives came together to provide a press briefing discussing the first ever, long-planned flying training deployment to an overseas location of the Air Force’s newest operational 5th-generation fighter.
As the first F-35A flying training deployment to an overseas location, the aircraft and total force Airmen, deployed from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, will spend several weeks in Europe deployed to multiple NATO bases in an effort to maximize training opportunities and visibly demonstrate U.S. support to NATO.
In his remarks at the event, General Tod Wolters, USAFE-AFAFRICA commander, discussed the importance of the training deployment.
“This flying training deployment provides the opportunity for combat-ready aircraft to train alongside Allies and other types of Air Force aircraft in a realistic training environment, enhancing integration between the U.S. and its Allies,” said Wolters.
“The sovereignty of the skies over NATO nations is paramount. This training signifies natural progression of the F-35 program. It allows us the opportunity to demonstrate and obtain the confidence in operational and interoperability characteristics of the system.”
In addition to conducting flying training, the deployment also provides an opportunity to test bed-down capabilities for the aircraft, associated personnel and equipment as the 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath is set to gain F-35As beginning in the early 2020s.
Ahead of RAF Lakenheath, the Royal Air Force is on track to begin receiving
F-35Bs as early as next year. The U.K. shares a vested interest in the training deployment, as highlighted by RAF Air Marshal Stuart Atha, Deputy Commander of Operations.
“This deployment to RAF Lakenheath over the next couple of weeks is yet another step on the journey of unlocking the potential for this aircraft,” said Atha.
“Whether it’s about how we support, how we maintain, or how we employ this capability, it’s not going to operate in isolation, it needs to be integrated. It needs to be integrated with other air forces and it needs to be stitched into the NATO fabric.”
Chargé d'Affaires Lewis Lukens, acting ambassador and chief operating officer of the U.S. mission in the United Kingdom, also attended the event and described the importance of the F-35 program in the United Kingdom.
“The F-35 represents the best of American and British engineering and technological advancement,” said Lukens. “I am proud that this program provides significant economic benefits for both of our countries.”
According to Lukens, the F-35 program is creating an estimated 24,000 jobs and will produce an estimated three billion pounds over the course of the program in business for U.K. companies.
Lukens also emphasized the importance of continued security partnerships in Europe which are critical to ensuring security for the United States, NATO Allies and European partners.
“The United States is fully committed to defending our NATO allies, and together with the United Kingdom we will continue to strengthen the alliance to adapt to today’s most pressing challenges.”