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The Air Force is moving to fly F-35s out of Alaska and Europe

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The Air Force is steadily incorporating the F-35A fighter jet, its new workhorse aircraft, into the fleet.

Late in December, the Air Force reactivated the 335th Fighter Squadron in Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.

The Air Force aims to have two F-35A squadrons in Alaska with a total of 54 aircraft. These aircraft are often the first line of defense against Russian aggression in the northwest. But their strategic and tactical utility goes beyond just Russia. F-35As from Alaska can be forward-deployed to American bases in the Pacific to deal with threats coming off China or even North Korea.

Recently, four F-35As from Eielson Air Force Base flew to Guam and conducted training with F-16s as part of an Agile Combat Employment that aims to test the austere airfield operations of the aircraft.

In many ways, the F-35 can be seen as the technological successor to the broadly capable F-16. (U.S. Air Force photo)

“The squadron’s primary mission is the suppression of enemy air defenses and offensive counter-air missions,” Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Chipman, the commander of the 335th Fighter Squadron, said in a press release.  

“Having two combat-coded F-35A squadrons at Eielson Air Force Base will provide PACAF [Pacific Command] and combatant commanders across the globe additional asset and deployment options, should the need arise to deter aggression by our adversaries.”

The “Fighting Falcons,” as the 335th Fighter Squadron is nicknamed, were deactivated in 2007; the last aircraft they flew was the venerable A-10 Thunderbolt II, which specializes in close air support.

A U.S. Navy Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II of Strike Fighter Squadron 101 (VFA-101), a U.S. Marine Corps F-35B of Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 (VMFAT-501), and a U.S. Air Force F-35A of the 58th Fighter Squadron participate in a training sortie together on 21 May 2014, near Eglin Air Force Base, Florida (USAF).

And yet that’s not the only F-35 news of late. Across the pond, the 48th Fighter Wing, based out of the United Kingdom, recently picked a new nickname for its 495th Fighter Squadron.

Nicknamed after the Norse mythological figures, the “Valkyries” will be the Air Force’s first squadron stationed outside the U.S. to field the F-35A. Based out of Royal Air Force Base Lakenheath, the “Valkyries” will receive their first F-35As later this year.

“‘Valkyries’ epitomizes the force’s move toward more inclusivity and equally represents the fifth-generation stealth fighter’s air superiority,” Lt. Col. Ian McLaughlin, the incoming 495th FS commander, said in a statement.

“I am honored to be the first commander of the initial U.S. Air Force overseas-based F-35A unit. Like the Valkyries themselves, we’ll be vital to determining the fate of our adversaries in the battlespace.”

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Matthew Spear, F-35A Lightning II Demonstration Team dedicated crew chief, watches the sky after recovering an F-35A Lightning II for the 2020 Fort Lauderdale Air Show Nov. 19, 2020, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. This was the F-35 Demo Team’s 11th national show and third Florida air show of the 2020 season. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Codie Trimble)

The nickname for the F-35A squadron was picked after a review of 700 proposals, which were submitted by members of the community.

Chosen by the Air Force, the F-35A is the standard variant of the 5th generation jet. The F-35B is the short takeoff and vertical-landing version of the aircraft and is the one that the Marine Corps has chosen. Finally, the F-35C is the Navy version of the aircraft and designed for aircraft carrier operations.

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Stavros Atlamazoglou

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations and national security. He is a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ). He holds a BA from the Johns Hopkins University, an MA from the Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and is pursuing a J.D. at Boston College Law School.