The U.S. Air Force has deployed one squadron of F-35A Lightning II fighter jets, Airmen, and associated equipment to Aviano Air Base, Italy, from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings, at Hill AFB, Utah, to participate in exercises and conduct training with other Europe-based aircraft as part of a Theater Security Package.
Funded through the European Deterrence Initiative, the TSP provides a more robust U.S. military rotational presence in the European theater capable of deterring adversaries and assuring partners and allies of U.S. commitment to regional security. The F-35s and members of the 421st and 466th Fighter Squadrons arrived at Aviano AB, May 24 and will remain in Europe for several weeks.
The 388th FW is the Air Force’s first combat-coded, or operational, F-35A unit. This is their second deployment to Europe. The first was the 34th Fighter Squadron deployment to RAF Lakenheath, England, in April 2017. The 421st FS is the newest F-35A squadron and this is their first deployment with the multi-role stealth fighter.
“The entire 421st ops and maintenance team are extremely excited for this deployment,” said Lt. Col. Richard Orzechowski, 421st Fighter Squadron commander. “As the final 388th Fighter Wing squadron to transition to the F-35A, we’ve been able to leverage the experience of the 4th FS and 34th FS and take the squadron on the road just six months after getting our first jets. We are really looking forward to continuing the cohesion built with our allies and partners. It is a real privilege to get the seasoning, training and life experiences for our 388th and 419th FW Airmen.”
F-35s, along with F-22 Raptors, are the world’s premier operational fifth-generation fighters, possessing a unique combination of stealth, speed, agility and situational awareness along with lethal long-range, air-to-air and air-to-ground weaponry, making these aircraft the best air dominance fighters in the world.
The active-duty 388th FW and Air Force Reserve 419th FW are the Air Force’s only combat-capable F-35 units, maintaining the jets in a Total Force partnership that utilizes the strengths of both components.
“It’s a great honor to be part of another milestone for Hill (AFB) and the F-35 community,” said Maj. James Russell, F-35 pilot with the 419th FW. “Locally, this effort is a demonstration of our Total Force Integration construct hard at work between the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings. On a larger scale, it’s a great opportunity to showcase our newest fighter platform to our partner nations and assure those nations of our continued support for their safety and security.”