Warsaw, Poland—Airpower has received scant attention at the Warsaw NATO summit, while there’s been lengthy discussion of adding more ground battalions and brigades in the Baltic region and a beefed-up central Mediterranean naval presence. A US diplomat told reporters at a background briefing that air is not being ignored, but may be taken for granted. “Air is the most expeditionary capability we have,” he said. “We can move air around quite rapidly, getting it into position, in most cases, in less than 72 hours.” He said the air elements of NATO’s responsiveness increase are chiefly in the form of more forward-area exercises involving F-15s—whose stay in the UK will be extended under the Fiscal 2017 budget—bomber rotations, and the frequent visit of F-22s, which have been to Europe twice in the last year. Another diplomat noted that F-35s will be key to overcoming Russian air defenses, if necessary, and “some of our European allies will deploy them before we do.” The F-22s, besides showing the flag and demonstrating rapid deployability and operation from relatively austere locations, are also giving European NATO allies a glimpse of what it will be like to have fifth-generation capabilities in theater. Still, “there have been no discussions” of returning to Europe some of the Air Force units that were withdrawn in the last few years. “There is ample basing availability if we have to bring them back,” one diplomat said.
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.