“Now that the F-35 has been declared combat capable, we will deploy our newest fighter to Europe in the not too distant future,” said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James during a speech at the Atlantic Council. “Matter of fact, if I were a betting woman, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the F-35 didn’t make an appearance, perhaps, next summer. The unique combination of stealth, situational and sensor fusion will play an important role in reassuring allies and providing deterrence.”
According to a report on Defense News, the USAF will also send a theater security package of F-15s from Louisiana and Florida Air National Guard units to Europe this spring to conduct training exercises with partners, similar to the deployment of F-22s to Romania last April.
James likely is nearing the end of her tenure as Air Force secretary this January and plans to deploy the F-35 could change under the new presidential administration. However, she advised her successor to move forward with deployments to Europe that showcase US air dominance, adding that such activities are key for deterring hostile Russian military action that has become more prevalent since its invasion of Crimea.
"Russia is a country that does understand force,” she said. “At a time like this, at a time when I believe they are pushing and poking and testing, I think the alliance needs to demonstrate that resolve and show force.” Also of vital importance is US involvement in the Baltic air policing mission – a NATO effort to guard the airspace of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia, she said.