WASHINGTON – The international debut of the F-35 joint strike fighter at two major air shows in the United Kingdom this year will send a pointed warning to bad actors in the region, according to the commander of US Air Forces in Europe.
Although he did not mention Russia by name in the context of the F-35, Gen. Frank Gorenc, NATO commander and head of USAFE, said the JSF's planned appearance at the Royal International Air Tattoo and Farnborough air shows this summer will demonstrate the United States' credibility, capability and willingness to retaliate against hostile forces.
"Fundamentally, deterrence is credibility, capability and willingness," Gorenc said during an April 5 Defense Writers Group event in Washington. "That airplane is going to make what we do from the air and across the board — it will in itself help" boost deterrence.
A crucial part of Gorenc's mission in recent years has been to soothe anxiety among European allies facing a resurgent Russia, an effort dubbed the "European Reassurance Initiative." Russia's development of increasingly far-reaching weapons and radar continues to pose challenges to the European theater, Gorenc said during the event.
"From the Barents to the Baltics to the Black Sea now to the Mediterranean, we see a continual movement of the development of modern, long-range, layered surface-to-air missile systems that would counter and create uncertainty for freedom of movement in the areas covered by those systems," Gorenc said. "Those systems extend far into territory that could adequately be described as self protection."
Reassurance is part of an effective deterrence strategy, Gorenc said. The rest is developing a credible, capable force that is willing to act, he stressed.
The Lockheed Martin's F-35 is set to be the star of the show at both RIAT and Farnborough. The Pentagon plans to send two Air Force F-35As and two US Marine Corps F-35Bs to the air shows, where the jets will fly with legacy warbirds and the Royal Air Force Red Arrows. The Marine Corps jets may even demonstrate a vertical landing, Defense News reported.
The F-35's appearance at RIAT and Farnborough, the jet's first major international air show circuit, will reinforce the notion that the JSF is no longer a concept, but "a real piece of equipment," Gorenc stressed.
"To actually see it, I think, is an important step in the procurement of that airplane and a reinforcement that what we have is real," Gorence said. "It's real, we have thousands of hours already, in fact, my-son in-law flies F-35s, so it's real."
Developed and procured jointly by the US and eight partner nations, the JSF embodies the foundational mission of NATO, Gorenc said. In terms of operations, logistics, and training, the interoperability the F-35 affords between the partners and foreign customers will be crucial, he added.
"I think that the F-35 is going do for NATO what the F-16 did, in the sense that many of the partners and many of the allies were flying it, and so we're going share common tactics, techniques, procedures (TTPs), concepts of operations, we're going to leverage the logistics systems the training system," Gorenc said. "I think that's going go a long way to provide the interoperability that we strive for in the NATO concept."