The USAF’s new F-35A Lightning II was deployed overseas for the first time at the weekend when the 34th Fighter Squadron arrived at RAF Lakenheath.
Two squadrons of the aircraft, which will also serve with the RAF and Royal Navy, will eventually be permanently based at RAF Lakenheath, but the Department of Defense said these were ‘on a long-planned training deployment to Europe’.
It added: “The aircraft are scheduled to conduct training with other US and NATO aircraft based in Europe for several weeks as part of the European Reassurance Initiative.
“This training deployment signifies an important milestone and natural progression of the F-35 program, allowing the Air Force to further demonstrate the operational capabilities of the fifth generation fighter aircraft. It also assists in refining requirements for eventually basing the F-35A in Europe, which is scheduled to receive the aircraft in the early 2020s.”
The USAF’s European headquarters in Germany said the F-35As are from the Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and will conduct air training over the next several weeks with other Europe-based aircraft in support of the European Reassurance Initiative.
General Tod Wolters, USAF in Europe and Africa commander. said: “This is an incredible opportunity for USAFE Airmen and our NATO allies to host this first overseas training deployment of the F-35A aircraft.
“As we and our joint F-35 partners bring this aircraft into our inventories, it’s important that we train together to integrate into a seamless team capable of defending the sovereignty of allied nations.
“RAF Lakenheath will be the first overseas beddown location for the F-35A. This deployment allows our pilots and maintainers to learn more about the European operating environment and will improve our interoperability with partners in the region.”
As part of the training they will deploy to other European countries from Lakenheath.
Their transatlantic flight was supported by the 100th Air Refueling Wing, RAF Mildenhall, as part of a ‘tanker bridge’ which supplied more than 178 tons of fuel. In addition, transport aircraft flew in back-up equipment.
The F-35 joint strike fighter is a fifth-generation jet figher with multiple combat roles. It was developed jointly by several Nato countries and is built by Lockheed Martin.
It’s mostly composite body has stealth capabilities and contains advanced electronics and the latest sensors. It is 15.7m long with a 10.7m wingspan and is powered by a single jet engine developing 43,000lb thrust making it capable of more than 1,200mph.
The navy will use a vertical take-off version.