Two MQ-1 Predator drones and 70 airmen from the Texas Air National Guard have deployed to Latvia in the continuing buildup of forces on a rotational basis in Eastern Europe to guard against Russia and spillover from the crisis in Ukraine.
U.S. European Command also announced that two of the four F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets that arrived in Germany last week had been flown to the Lask airbase in central Poland to join training exercises with NATO allies.
“The U.S. is conducting reconnaissance of abilities of operating this type of aircraft at an allied airport,” Polish army spokesman Artur Golawski told Reuters. The General Atomics-made Predators and the Lockheed Martin Corp.-made F-22s were expected to stay in Latvia and Poland through mid-September.
Last week, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said at a Pentagon news conference that the deployment of the F-22s would allow for testing of the abilities of the stealth aircraft to communicate and fight together with the Eurofighter and other advanced warplanes.
The Air Force said that the two Predator remotely piloted aircraft, or RPAs, and the and 70 airmen from the 147th Reconnaissance Wing of the Texas Air National Guard based at Ellington Field in Houston deployed to Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia, over the weekend.
“This temporary deployment of aircraft and personnel, which continues through mid-September, will test the unit’s ability to forward deploy RPAs and conduct air operations in an effort to help assure our Latvian allies, NATO allies and European partners of our commitment to regional security and stability,” the Air Force said.
The Guard airmen will also conduct training with Baltic states partners on how to operate and maintain RPAs, the Air Force said.
The funding for the latest deployments to Europe was coming out of the $500 million European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) authorized by Congress last year to conduct multiple exercises to include an increased U.S. military presence in Europe and the Baltic states and additional bilateral and multi-lateral training events.
In congressional testimony, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, who will replace Army Gen. Martin Dempsey as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in October, and other top commanders have identified Russia and the aggressive policies of President Vladimir Putin as the main threat to U.S. national security.
In a town hall meeting with Marines at Camp Pendleton, California, last week, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said that Putin by his actions in Ukraine was “taking Russia in the wrong direction for his own people.”
“But it seems that that’s the direction he wants to take them, towards one of more confrontation,” Carter said. “And we’re simply going to have to check that, both on our own security interest and because we have important allies and friends in that part of the world, and we have important treaty commitments in the case of NATO.”