US to send F-35s, AH-64s and troops to bolster NATO’s eastern flank

The US announced on February 22 that it will further bolster the defence of NATO’s eastern flank with additional European-based troops, F-35A Lightning II fifth-generation multi-role stealth fighters and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters.

Ordered by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J Austin III under the direction of US President Joe Biden, the move will see additional forces from within the US European Command’s area of operation be temporarily redeployed to various locations along NATO’s eastern flank, specifically in the Baltic region and Poland. President Biden initially announced the new deployments, stating that the move was a direct response to the continued large-scale presence of Russian forces both within and along the borders of Ukraine and in Belarus.

34th FS F-35A arrives at Spangdahlem 16-02-22 [USAF/Tech Sgt Maeson L Elleman]
An F-35A Lightning II from the 388th Fighter Wing's 34th Fighter Squadron 'Rude Rams' taxis to an aircraft shelter after arriving at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, on February 16, 2022. In total, 12 aircraft deployed to the German base to support NATO allies in the region. Up to eight examples are expected to forward deploy to an undisclosed location in the Baltic region in the coming week. USAF/ Tech Sgt Maeson L Elleman

US Department of Defense (DOD) officials have stated that the forces in question will relocate to NATO’s eastern flank within a week. The move follows Russian President Vladimir Putin’s illegal recognition of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics as independent states and the initial deployment of Russian ground forces into those regions, which constitutes a renewed invasion of eastern Ukraine after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014.

In all, the US will deploy a US Army infantry battalion task force of approximately 800 soldiers into the Baltic region from Italy, where they are currently based. These troops will be joined in the Baltic region by 20 AH-64s of the US Army’s 12th Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB), which are permanently stationed at Katterbach Army Airfield in Germany. A further 12 Apaches – operated by the 7th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, a part of the 1st Cavalry Division’s 1st Air Cavalry Brigade – will be moved from Stefanovikeion Air Base in Greece (where they are currently deployed) to Poland.

US Army AH-64E in Greece [US Army/Capt Taylor Criswell]
Staff Sgt Weston of the US Army's Task Force Palehorse refuels an AH-64E Apache Guardian attack helicopter from the 7th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment - a part of the 1st Cavalry Division’s 1st Air Cavalry Brigade - at Stefanovikeion Air Base, Greece, on February 21, 2022. A day later it was announced that 12 of the unit's AH-64s will be forward deployed to Poland. US Army/Capt Taylor Criswell

On February 16, 12 F-35A Lightning IIs from the USAF's 34th Fighter Squadron ‘Rude Rams’ deployed to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, along with pilots and support personnel from the active-duty 388th and reserve 419th Fighter Wings at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The US DoD states that up to eight F-35As will be redeployed from Spangdahlem to unspecified operating locations across NATO’s eastern flank.

“These additional personnel are being repositioned to reassure our NATO allies, deter any potential aggression against NATO member states, and train with host-nation forces,” the US DOD said in a written statement. It adds that Austin has also ordered 8,500 US service members to remain on a heightened state of readiness should NATO activate its Rapid Reaction Force.