⏩(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by David Holmes, REUTERS)
ORLAND AIR BASE, Norway (Reuters) – Two U.S. F-22 stealth fighter jets squared off in simulated dogfights with two of Norway’s expanding fleet of F-35 aircraft on Wednesday as part of an exercise aimed at strengthening the NATO alliance and increasing its deterrent power.
The two U.S. F-22s are among 13 in Europe for a series of short-term deployments in places such as Greece and Poland, with further training missions planned in undisclosed locations in coming days.
The Norwegian deployment lasted just one day but will lay the groundwork for NATO allies as they work to integrate their stealth warfare capabilities, Colonel Leslie Hauck, chief of the fifth generation integration division at the U.S. Air Force’s headquarters in Europe, told reporters in Norway.
The deployment is part of U.S. efforts to reassure European allies after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Growing numbers of Lockheed Martin Corp F-35s are arriving in Europe as the world’s most advanced warplane and most expensive weapons program matures following a raft of cost increases and technical challenges in its early years.
“Every training opportunity that we have betters our readiness for any potential adversary of the future,” Hauck said at the Orland air base, already home to six of Norway’s expected 52 F-35s.
Hauck leads a new office at Ramstein Air Base in southwestern Germany, that is working to ensure a smooth transition for some 40 F-35s due to be on site in Europe by year end. The first U.S. F-35s are set to arrive in 2021.
Next month, a group of senior officials from the United States and seven other F-35 operator countries – Norway, Denmark, Italy, Turkey, Israel, Britain and the Netherlands – will meet to compare notes on the new warplane, which was first used in combat by Israel in May.
The United States already has more than 150 of the aircraft, whose sensors pilots say give them the most extensive overview about a battlefield of any combat jet available.
Norwegian Air Force Major Morten Hanche, who piloted one of the Norwegian F-35s, said the mock fight with the F-22s was great practice, especially since the F-35s generally surprise and overpower other non-stealthy aircraft.
He declined to name the winning aircraft, saying only: “The F-22 is a very formidable opponent.”