Utah-based F-35s fly over German skies as extended deployment starts
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 18, 2019
SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany — The skies above Spangdahlem Air Base roared Tuesday with the sounds of F-35s, as Utah-based airmen took the Air Force’s newest fighter jets on their first extended deployment to Germany.
Pilots from Hill Air Force Base familiarized themselves with the terrain, scoped out nearby airfields and learned about local air traffic patterns Tuesday, about a week after arriving in Germany, said Lt. Col. Richard Orzechowski, 421st Fighter Squadron commander.
The 421st Fighter Squadron received its first F-35A Lightning II fighter aircraft about six months ago and is the latest squadron in the Air Force to fly them. It is deployed here along with airmen from other active duty and reserve units at Hill, including the 466th Fighter Squadron.
The deployment to Germany — the fourth major overseas mission for the airframe — is expected to continue through the summer as part of a European Deterrence Initiative theater security package. F-35s previously deployed to England’s RAF Lakenheath in 2017.
The F-35s will train with allies such as Italy and Norway, which already fly the F-35, as well as other fighter aircraft from the U.S. and partner nations.
About 300 people, including 26 pilots, and 12 aircraft comprise the main deployment group, officials said.
The deployment will help identify potential problems, particularly with communication, that might arise while working with other U.S. and partner-nation aircraft, so that real-world operations are as seamless as possible, Orzechowski said.
For F-35s, which first deployed in combat deployment this spring, working through maintenance issues overseas has been a challenge, particularly the resupply of spare parts in a timely fashion.
“We’ve spent a lot of effort improving upon our experience in Japan back in 2017 and ’18,” said Col. Michael Miles, 388th Maintenance Group commander.
“What we’re seeing in both this location and in (CENTCOM) is that issues we had previously are no longer there,” Miles said.
“What I see in news reports and other things, is sometimes old data (when) the problem’s been solved and current operations are always better than the news reporting of our issues in the F-35 program,” he said.
But there continues to be high demand for parts such as the canopies, lights “and things that you would have expected to last longer,” Miles said.
The F-35s deployed downrange, as well as those currently in Europe, have top priority within the Air Force for spare parts when needed, Miles said.
The squadron brought spare parts to Europe and can also tap into Lockheed Martin’s global supply chain, Orzechowski said. In addition, “we’ve worked with some of our partners here in Europe to get some of the items needed to operate,” he said.