@ Aviation Report / Andrea Avian

Guardian Lightning II: dutch F-35s defending NATO’s east flank

With the escalation of international tensions between Russia and NATO and a peace that seems increasingly distant, the Air Policing missions that seemed like a routine, have become more and more important in the field of NATO border deterrence. The two fronts more demanding, and more surveilled, are the southern-east flank, that means Romania, and the northern-east flank, that means Poland and Lithuania.

When the Italian air force mission “White Eagle” with four EF-2000 deployed at Malbork air base, in Poland, was over, the task passed to Koninklijke Luchtmacht, that sent eight F-35A from 30th Genuary 2023. Already in 2014, the Polish air base at Malbork was activated to receive Allied fighter detachments after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The Netherlands were among the first Allies to deploy here and flew their F-16 out of Malbork under NATO Assurance Measures at the time.

A total of eight modern F-35 together with a detachment of 150 men and women have been deployed from 322 Squadron at Leeuwrden air base (NL) to the Polish 22 Tactical Air Base at Malbork, around 60Km southeast of Gdansk. After a short time with familiarization flights, they were combat ready for taking over the NATO air policing mission under the control of Combined Air Operations Centre in Uedem, Germany, in close cooperation with the Polish air force.

It is a great expeience to deploy our advance fifth generation fighter jets here in malbork”, Magg Shackle, the Dutch detachemnt commander says, “By sending eight F-35s, the Netherlands underline their commitment to collective security in the region and contribute to showing NATO presence in the air. Four of our F-35 are earmarked for the Air Policing mission in QRA (Quick Reaction Allert) and other four are used for ordinary training, but they can also be used immediately if the situation so requires.”.

The deployment enhances NATO’s force posture along the eastern flank. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Allies have deployed additional air defence assets that are employed under peacetime regulation to safeguard the skies and assure the population of the eastern member states.

The manoeuvers that NATO fighter jets conduced every day are demonstrating NATO’s ability to plan, coordinate and execute combined air operations”, said Allied Air Command Deputy Chief of Staff Plans, Turkish Air Force Brigadier General Omer Nafiz Gùlmezoglu, “Our joint force air component at Ramstein programmed the interaction of fighters plus transport and refueling aircraft to orchestrate the readiness to protect the eastern flank.

The Dutch F-35 cooperate every day with Allied French Rafale and German EF-2000 deployed at Siauliai air base, in Lithuania. On 13rd February the Dutch F-35 executed their first alfa-scramble to intercept three Russian aircraft near Poland and escorted them out. After identification, it turned out to be a Ilyushin IL-20M Coot-A and two Suchoj Su 27 Flanker. After the identification, the two F-35 were supported by other two Luftwaffe EF-2000 that took off from Siauliai.

The dutch air policing mission is named Guardian Lightning II and demonstrates the maximum effort carried out by Dutch air force. During 2022 other four dutch F-35 have been deployed at Graf Ignatievo, Bulgaria, but in that case the air activity was easier because of the more distance from the “hot area”. Still during 2022, the dutch F-35 have been deployed in Amendola, Italy, for a joint training between IV and V generation fighters belonging to Italian, US and Dutch air foce, during Falcon Strike exercise.

The Guardian Lightning II operation started from 30th Genuary and last until the beginnin of April. In the middle time, there had been a rotation of the personnel with the aim to give to the more people as possible the possibility to operate and get experience in a real scenario. The experieced achieìved in Bulgaria last year give the possibility to achieve information and experiences about the logistic and support aspects that a V generation fighter such as the F-35 requires far from home base.

Before to come to Malbork, the KLU sended a team to evaluate the structures and facilities already available in the base and to decide what can be used and what should have been necessary to carry from home base. A contribute in this evaluation has been given by their italian collegues who operated in Malbork few months earlier.

Poland annunced recently its intention to provide its MiG 29 to Ukraine. It is not clear how many of them, but not official rumors tell that 12 aircraft should be send now, probably the MiG 29G ex -Luftwaffe, those one that did not get the modernization program, and later, after the delivery of the new South-Koran FA-50, the other MiG should be sent.

In the meantime, MiG 29 and F-16 from Polish air force, continue to cooperate with NATO allied to ensure the air spece on the east flank of the Alleace.

Article and images: Andrea Avian, Slawek Hesja Krajniewski