The United States has deployed several of its F-35 aircraft to the UK on their first operational mission to Europe, as part of an initiative to protect the NATO military pact against what Washington and its allies call “Russian aggression.”
The advanced aircraft flew from Hill Air Force Base in Utah to Royal Air Force’s Lakenheath airfield over the weekend, British media reported Monday.
The Pentagon had announced earlier that the aircraft would partake in joint exercises with NATO forces and further demonstrate their “operational capabilities.”
“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,” said USAF General Tod Wolters, Commander of US Air Forces in Europe.
The aircraft were sent under the European Reassurance Initiative, which was spearheaded by former US President Barack Obama in the wake of the 2014 reintegration of Crimean Peninsula to Russia in a referendum.
Back then, the NATO accused Russia of meddling in the ongoing Ukraine conflict and severed ties with Moscow completely.
Finding more customers
Before deploying the F-35s, Washington had sent F-22, F-16, F-15 and A-10 fighter jets on the same mission.
The new deployment has been viewed as a marketing tactic by the US to show off the $400 billion aircraft’s capabilities to its European allies and convince them to acquire their own versions.
“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 Air Force said in a statement.
So far, the UK, Italy, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland and Turkey have contacted Lockheed Martin for possible deals.
However, the company needs more orders to reduce the costs of the years-long project and meet President Donald Trump’s demands.
According to Roger Carr, the chairman of the UK weapons manufacturer BAE Systems, Trump has urged Lockheed and its partners to slash the aircraft’s cost by at least 10 percent.
The aircraft, often referred to as the most expensive weapon in history, have missed several deadlines due to recurrent software bugs and dissatisfactory performances.