F-22s to Europe: Response to Russia in Ukraine?

F-22 Raptor: The U.S. Air Force is planning to increase its military presence in Europe because of increasing tensions with Russia, including the possibility of sending the advanced US fighter jet, the F-22. 

REUTERS/U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald/Handout
Two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor stealth jet fighters fly near Andersen Air Force Base in Guam in this handout photo dated August 4, 2010.

The U.S. Air Force is planning to increase its military presence in Europe because of increasing tensions with Russia, a senior U.S. official said on Monday.

The United States in January announced plans to station F-35 fighters at RAF Lakenheath in Britain from 2020.

"That's the beginning, there will be more. You'll continue to see more and more rotational forces," Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James told reporters at the Paris Airshow.

She said it was too early to give details, but added that she saw no reason why F-22 fighter aircraft could not be stationed in Europe in the future. The F-22 stealth (radar-evading) fighter jets are among the most advanced in the US military. 

"I could easily see the day -- though I couldn't tell you the day exactly -- when the F-22, for example, rotates in is a possibility. I don't see why that couldn't happen in the future," James said, according to Military.com.

James plans to visit Britain, Italy, Cyprus, Poland and Germany while in Europe.

"The biggest threat on my mind is what's happening with Russia and the activities of Russia. That's a big part of why I'm here in Europe," she said.

She urged NATO allies to keep defense spending at agreed levels.

"We'll be reassuring those allies we are standing shoulder to shoulder with them."

General Frank Gorenc, the commander of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe, said air policing had already been reinforced in the Baltic region. Planes were routinely investigating Russian military aircraft that had their transponders switched off.

"Where we had one set of aircraft and one base, we now have three bases with four sets of aircraft. Activity is up, both on the Russian side and in our response," Gorenc said.

The report about the F-22s comes as the United States plans to store heavy military equipment in the Baltics and Eastern European nations to reassure allies made uneasy by Russian intervention in Ukraine, and to deter further aggression, a senior US official said on Saturday.

"We will pre-position significant equipment," the official said, commenting on a New York Times report that the Pentagon was poised to store battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and other heavy weapons for as many as 5,000 troops.

Poland and Lithuania both confirmed they were in talks with Washington on stationing heavy arms in warehouses in the region.

"The threats to the Baltic region have increased. This has been discussed many times and I view positively [the fact] that talks lead to concrete decisions which, I think, will become a reality," Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius told Reuters.

(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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