Up in the air
F-35s Make Their Debut in Europe

The Air Force’s beleaguered flagship fighter jet program will make its debut in Europe this weekend, Defense News reports:

The U.S. Air Force’s F-35A is deploying internationally for the first time this weekend, heading to Europe to conduct training exercises with NATO allies, the Pentagon announced Friday.

The Defense Department offered sparse details about the event, which will involve deploying a “small number” of F-35As from the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, to an undisclosed location in Europe.

The joint strike fighters will take off sometime this weekend. After landing, they will then spend several weeks in the region as part of the European Reassurance Initiative, the department’s effort to strengthen military ties with European allies to help deter Russian aggression on the continent.

The F-35 stealth jet program has had a long and troubled history, with much-publicized cost overruns, procurement woes, and design flaws creating the popular impression that the program was a white elephant. Even President Trump joined the pile-on in December, taking to Twitter to attack the “out of control” costs of the most expensive weapons program in the Pentagon’s history.

Lately, however, the critics have been eating crow. They said the F-35 would never fly—but today it is not only flying, it is making its debut as a factor in diplomacy. The European deployment certainly sends an unwelcome signal to Putin, as a host of advanced American fighter jets move to reassure European NATO members on his doorstep. And Russia will need to adjust to that reality in the long term, since the jets are expected to be permanently based in Europe beginning in the early 2020s.

Whatever the past problems and inefficiencies of the F-35 program—and there are many—the news that the fifth-generation fighters are finally getting off the ground and serving a strategic purpose should be welcomed.

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