There’s no sure way to know if NATO’s recent moves to conduct more exercises, deploy F-22s to theater, and rotate more combat aircraft into the Baltic states are deterring Russia, the Air Force’s top officer in Europe said. Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of US Air Forces in Europe, told defense reporters on April 4 in Washington, D.C., he can’t prove these steps gave Russia second thoughts about expanding its adventurism in Ukraine or possibly the Baltic states, but the steps reassured NATO allies. That “is a fundamental part of deterring, in this case, the Russians,” Gorenc said. The Cold War came to a “natural conclusion” without a hot war, but whether Russia was actually deterred is open for debate, he said. Still, it’s important to “develop a credible force, a capable force and … a willingness to use that force.” The steps USAFE is taking to step up rotational deployments and do more exercises with allies “are an integral part of any response” to a Russian threat, “and there are emerging capabilities that have to be developed and nurtured, too,” he said. The F-35, for example, will increase NATO air capability, not only because of its advanced technology but because it will be the centerpiece of interoperability by the partners in NATO that will field the jet. Russia has developed a deep, “layered” anti-aircraft system from “the Baltics to the Black Sea, and now, the Mediterranean,” Gorenc noted, “with coverage well into the Baltic (nations) and Polish airspace. That’s a fact.” NATO needs to “pay attention” to Russia’s aspirations, he said. (See also: Increasing the European Commitment, Russian Roulette)
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.