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NATO accelerates F-35 deployment to Eastern Europe

Pictured in the Netherlands, F-35s of the Royal Netherlands Air Force have been sent to Eastern Europe without delay following the renewed invasion of Ukraine by Russia. (Royal Netherlands Air Force)

NATO has brought forward its deployment of Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters (JSFs) to the Southern Air Policing mission, with the Netherlands announcing its two jets have been sent to Eastern Europe immediately rather than in March as earlier planned.

The Dutch Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced on 24 February that the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) said that the pair of F-35A ‘stealth' jets had been sent without delay as an ‘expression of allied solidarity' with Ukraine.

The Dutch MoD first announced its plan to contribute F-35s to the NATO Southern Air Policing mission over Bulgaria and Romania in late January, saying that the aircraft would be on station throughout March and April. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to further invade Ukraine on 24 February caused this deployment to be enforced immediately.

While the F-35 has flown on NATO's air-policing missions to the Baltic and Iceland, this deployment will be the first time that the ‘stealth' jet has flown on the Southern Air Policing mission that covers the Black Sea neighbours of Bulgaria and Romania.

Launched as part of NATO's enhanced air-policing (eAP) package, the Southern Air Policing mission sees allied aircraft operate out of Graf Ignatievo Air Base in Bulgaria and Mihail Kogălniceanu Air Base in Romania, operating alongside MiG-29 ‘Fulcrum' and Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons of the two national air forces respectively.

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