by Manlio Dinucci
On 25 April 2017, two US F-35 fighter planes arrived at the Ämari air base, Estonia, for their “first practice deployment in Europe”. This is code for their first war drill in Europe. Shortly afterwards, on 28 April, another two fighter planes arrived at the Graf Ignatievo airbase, Bulgaria for this same purpose. These planes form part of the group of six F-35A Lightning II that, on 15 April, were transferred from the United States to the English base situated in Lakenheath.The U.S. Air Force communicates that this is the first overseas “practice deployment” of the US F-35 and emphasizes that this “will strengthen the security of our Nato allies and European partners and demonstrate our commitment to both regional and global security”. At the welcome ceremony, the Estonian Minister of Defense, Tsahkna declared, that “ hosting such an advanced airplane, acknowledges the important role played by this base”. Ämari is indeed the principal base of the Nato mission for “air patrolling” the Baltic, where bomber fighters, provided in rotation by the members of the Alliance (including Italy) are ready to take off 24/7 “in rapid response to violations of their air space”. The base is situated around 200 km from the Russian territory and around 400 km from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, which a fighter plane can reach in a few minutes. Also of strategic importance is Graf Ignatievo, one of the four US bases in Bulgaria, a little more that 500 km from the territory of Russia.
The choice of these bases for the first F-35 drill outside the US has multiple objectives. Its most important: to strengthen the “European Reassurance Initiative”, the operation the United States launched in 2014 to “reassure” their Nato allies and European partners against “a Russia that is growing in its desire to assert its will through aggressive actions”. For such operation, in which falls the lining up of the US 3a armoured Brigade in Poland, 3.4 billion dollars have been earmarked for tax year 2017.
At the same time, the F-35 drill serves to “integrate the new fighter plane of the 5a generation into Nato’s infrastructure”. For now, the U.S. Air Force communicates, it is not anticipating using F-35 in “air patrolling” the Baltic, but “if necessary, the fighter plane could be used in combat”.
Another aim of the exercise, carried out right at the edge of Russia’s border, is to test the F-35’s capacity to dodge the Russian radars. This is in fact evidence of a nuclear attack: the new fighter plane is in fact assigned to be the principal vehicle for the B61-12, the new nuclear bomb that from 2020 the US will substitute for the current B-61. Italy will provide both the F-35 and the B61-12, that can be used in operations under US command.
The drill also aims at demonstrating that Lockheed Martin’s new fighter plane, despite its many technical problems, is finally “combat ready”, rebutting the warnings of those who were confident that it would never fly. On 26 April, Lockheed Martin received a 109 million dollar contract to upgrade one of so many software packages for the fighter plane. On 1 May, it has received another contract valued at 1.4 billion dollars for the first phase in the production of 130 F-35 Lightning II planes of Batch 12, earmarked for the United States and other countries.
It is now essential that the “combat ready” fighter plane is used in some war, so that it can be declared “combat proven”. In anticipation, it is sent to Estonia and Bulgaria, to fight the new cold war against Russia, “to provide comfort” to us, Europeans.