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Hill AFB F-35s helped find missile sites while aiding Ukraine effort last year

By Tim Vandenack - | Apr 4, 2023

Photo supplied, U.S. Air Force

Three U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II aircraft assigned to the 48th Fighter Wing at Royal Air Force Lakenheath in England arrive at Siauliai Air Base in Lithuania on Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. They are assigned to support NATO’s collective defense.

The Hill Air Force Base F-35 aircraft that deployed last year to Europe in response to Russian aggression against Ukraine helped locate missile sites in the zone, aiding the overall NATO effort.

“We weren’t crossing the border. We’re not shooting anything or dropping anything,” Col. Craig Andrle, the 388th Fighter Wing commander, told the Air Force Times in an article published Friday. “But the jet is always sensing, gathering information. And it was doing that very, very well.”

Hill AFB officials are typically tight-lipped about specifics involving the aircraft that operate out of the air base, including the 388th Fighter Wing. However, the article in the Air Force Times — part of the Sightline Media Group, which focuses on the military and the defense industry — offers a glimpse into the deployment of the Hill AFB F-35 Lightning II last year to Europe.

The conflict between Ukraine and Russia simmers on, even if the original Hill AFB deployment is long concluded.

Twelve jets and around 300 airmen deployed last year, arriving at Spangdahlem Air Base in German on Feb. 16, 2022, and remaining until May of last year, the Air Force Times said. At the time, Air Force officials said the aim was to bolster support of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance of nations, or NATO.

More specifically, the mission goal was to “(v)acuum up as much electronic data as possible from the surface-to-air missles and aircraft dotting Eastern Europe to build a map to guide NATO operations,” Air Force Times said. F-35s can block and destr0y air defenses and detect radars “to compile a picture of friendly and unfriendly forces in the area.”

Hill AFB said last year that the contingent of aircraft deployed to Europe helped support air policing efforts out of Amari Air Base in Estonia, Siauliai Air Base in Lithuania and Fetesti Air Base in Romania.

While in the zone last year, U.S. forces encountered jets of Belarus, which is friendly to Russia, but there were no sparks. “They’re doing the same thing that we’re doing,” Col. Brad Bashore, the 388th operations group commander, told Air Force News. “We just looked at each other. … No direct interaction and nothing that was unprofessional on either side.”


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