Hill F-35s, Europe deployment

F-35A Lightning II fighter jets, Airmen, and associated equipment from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings, at Hill AFB, Utah, deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy, to participate in exercises and conduct training with other Europe-based aircraft as part of a Theater Security Package.

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Combat F-35s and associated crews from Hill Air Force Base continue with a heavy deployment load.

According to a press release from the base, one squadron of F-35As, airmen and other equipment from Hill’s 388th and 419th fighter wings have deployed to Aviano Air Base in Italy. The group is in Italy to participate in exercises and complete training with other European aircraft as part of a “Theater Security Package,” the release says.

In the release, 388th spokesman Micah Garbarino said the mission is funded through the European Deterrence Initiative and “provides a more robust U.S. military ... 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 on Friday, Garbarino said, and will remain in Europe for several weeks.

The 388th is the Air Force’s first combat ready, operational F-35A unit. The European deployment is the wing’s second deployment to the the region. In April 2017, the 34th Fighter Squadron deployed to Royal Air Force Lakenheath in England.

In 2017, F-35s from Hill also served at Kadena Air Base in Japan. In February of this year, a group of 12 F-35s, maintainers, intelligence officers, weapons crews and support personnel from Hill completed three-week combat exercise known as “Red Flag” — an exercise meant to replicate a battle against near-equal enemies during a large-scale conflict.

A group of Hill F-35s and airmen are currently stationed at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, to support the United States Air Force Central Command mission in the Middle East. Citing operational security, the Air Force didn’t release the number of jets or airmen stationed at Al Dhafra, timelines, or other details, but the mission marks the F-35s’ first ever deployment to the Middle East.

The first operational F-35As arrived at Hill in late 2015 and by the end of this year, Hill will own and operate 78 F-35s.

You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at mishaw@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23.

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