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Airmen from the 388th Fighter Wing prepare an F-35A Lightning II for flight from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Feb. 14, 2022. F-35s from the active duty 388th and Reserve 419th Fighter Wings deployed to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, arriving Feb. 16.

Airmen from the 388th Fighter Wing prepare an F-35A Lightning II for flight from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Feb. 14, 2022. F-35s from the active duty 388th and Reserve 419th Fighter Wings deployed to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, arriving Feb. 16. (Kip Sumner/U.S. Air Force)

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The Air Force has deployed a dozen F-35A Lightning II fighter jets and about 350 personnel to Germany as tensions continue between Russia and the West over the Kremlin’s military buildup around Ukraine.

The planes, which are from the 34th Fighter Squadron’s 388th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, arrived at Spangdahlem Air Base on Wednesday, the service said.

The F-35s are in Europe temporarily “to increase the collective defense of NATO,” Capt. Erik Anthony, a command spokesman, said Thursday.

Unlike last week’s arrival of four B-52 Stratofortress aircraft at Britain’s RAF Fairford, the deployment to Spangdahlem had not been planned as part of a regular rotation, U.S. Air Forces in Europe–Air Forces Africa officials said.

An F-35A Lightning II pilot from the 388th Fighter Wing prepares to fly from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Feb. 15, 2022, for a deployment to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany.

An F-35A Lightning II pilot from the 388th Fighter Wing prepares to fly from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Feb. 15, 2022, for a deployment to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. (Kip Sumner/U.S. Air Force)

It comes on the heels of the arrival Monday of eight F-15Es from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., in the Polish town of Lask, USAFE-AFAFRICA said in a statement. In addition, the Air Force sent eight F-15 Eagle fighter jets to Poland last week.

Six KC-135 Stratotankers from the 100th Aerial Refueling Wing at RAF Mildenhall in England also deployed to Germany’s Ramstein Air Base on Monday, the command said.

The string of deployments comes amid ongoing fears of a new Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin claimed earlier this week that it had started to pull back troops from the border with Ukraine.

But NATO responded Tuesday that it has not seen any evidence of a de-escalation. More than 150,000 Russian troops are estimated by U.S. officials to be amassed near Ukraine.

“We are facing a dynamic environment, and this deployment significantly enhances our support to NATO’s defenses,” Gen. Jeff Harrigian, the commander of USAFE-AFAFRICA and Allied Air Command, said in a statement, referring to the F-35 jets in Germany.

The latest deployment augments the seven F-35s stationed at RAF Lakenheath. The base’s new F-35 squadron, the first in Europe, welcomed its first four jets in December. It received three more last week, Anthony said.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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