The Air Force Is Sending a Stealth Fighter to Europe. But Which?

An F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighter from the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and an F-22A Raptor from the 43rd Fighter Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., soar over the Emerald Coast Sept. 19, 2012. (U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Jeremy T. Lock)
An F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighter from the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and an F-22A Raptor from the 43rd Fighter Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., soar over the Emerald Coast Sept. 19, 2012. (U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Jeremy T. Lock)

One of the U.S. Air Force's fifth-generation stealth fighters will head to Europe before summer's end to support the joint coalition on the continent, according to a top general.

"I would like to announce that we will be welcoming back U.S. fifth-generation assets into the European theater later this summer," Gen. Tod Wolters, commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe-Africa, told reporters during a conference call Wednesday.

"These assets will work with U.S. and allied forces that are already in Europe, including partner-nation fifth-generation assets to build on the integration from previous deployments," he said. "The integration of fifth-generation assets allows the coalition to maintain the air superiority advantage by complementing the capabilities of our powerful fourth-generation fleet."

Wolters declined to specify whether the deployment would involve the F-22 Raptor or the F-35A Lightning II but added, "These assets continue to be a game-changer in developing the right size and mix of capabilities to compete, deter and, if required, win."

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In August 2015, the Air Force deployed four F-22s to Europe for the first time as part of the European Reassurance Initiative, now renamed the European Deterrence Initiative. Months later, a dozen F-22s from Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, traveled across the continent, coming close to Russia's borders with a quick deployment to Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, Romania.

The service last May completed the F-35A's first deployment to Europe after several weeks of training and plans to permanently base a squadron of F-35s on the continent beginning in 2021.

"We've learned lessons from bringing the F-22 -- a fifth-gen capability -- over, so we are ready for the F-35 … and we would like to get [F-35s] here for training and exercises," Lt. Col. Bradley Brandt, branch chief of operations and training for the command, told Military.com last year.

Wolters in 2017 said having either stealth jet in Europe helps prepare airmen in maintenance training and how best to field and deploy the sensor-heavy aircraft.

"Speed and information are 21st-century musts for conflict," he said, which needs to be fused for a "fighter-friendly format. Information at the speed of war is critical ... so we can outperform anyone who wants to fight us."

The news of fifth-generation aircraft heading to Europe comes on the heels of a new report that says fifth-gen fighters, specifically the F-22, are underutilized, and thus pilots and crews may not be appropriately prepared for future high-end conflicts.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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