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US fighter jets arrive in Romania to bolster deterrence mission

U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the 301st Fighter Wing, Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas, prepare to launch F-16C Fighting Falcons at Campia Turzii, Romania, May 8, 2019, as part of Theater Security Package 19.1 in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve. Funded through the European Deterrence Initiative, TSP 19.1 provides a more robust U.S. military rotational presence in the European theater, capable of deterring, and if required, responding to regional threats. While in theater, these personnel and aircraft will participate in multiple readiness exercises alongside NATO allies and partners to strengthen interoperability and to demonstrate U.S. commitment to the stability and security of Europe (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Andrew Layton).

A short U.S. Air Force deployment to Romania is doubling the number of F-16 fighter jets in the country, ahead of Romanian plans to purchase more of the U.S.-made aircraft.

More than 250 airmen and a dozen F-16C fighter jets from the Fort Worth, Texas-based 457th Fighter Squadron deployed to Romania this month to strengthen regional air defenses and deter possible Russian aggression.

“We have our ‘friendly’ neighbor on the east side, that sometimes puts a lot of pressure, not only on our country, but on the entire eastern flank of NATO,” said Romanian Maj. Cosmin Tanase, who has been working with the U.S. airmen. “Having the U.S. Air Force in Romania ensures that any possible aggression would be taken care of right away and would make [them] think twice before coming here.”

“Of course, we have our own planes, but having a dozen U.S. fighter jets on base helps a lot,” Tanase added.

The three-month deployment is part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, the ongoing U.S. mission to reassure allies in Europe by positioning troops and equipment to NATO’s Eastern borders in response to a resurgent Russia.

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“I think our presence here in the region, and our resolve to work with our allies, like Romania, will deter any aggression,” said Lt. Col. Josh Padgett, the squadron commander. “Security in Europe is paramount to security in the United States, and missions like this help to strengthen Europe and the NATO alliance.”

The deployment of the 12 4th generation multirole fighters also gives the transitioning Romanian air force more experience with the jets, Tanase said.

The Romanian Air Force is in the process of transitioning from Soviet-era aircraft to F-16s of their own. The service still operates several dozen Lancer C interceptors, a much-upgraded version of the MiG-21. Several dozen single-seat fighters and two-seat trainers were heavily modified by Israel’s Elbit Systems and equipped to carry Western ordnance.

In 2013, Romania purchased 12 F-16s from Portugal, and now plans on adding 41 more of the jets in the years to come, according to a statement from Romanian Defense Minister Gabriel Les last month.

“This seems like this is the airplane that will replace the MiG-21, and our [military] feels very confident that this is a very good aircraft,” Tanase said, citing the jet’s ability to conduct a wide variety of missions as being, “perfect, at least for Romania.”

The U.S. retains more than 1,000 of the most recent variants of the F-16, which was first delivered to the Air Force in 1979. The aircraft have since undergone numerous upgrades and last year began receiving modifications designed to extend their service into the 2040s, according to previous Air Force statements.

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© 2019 the Stars and Stripes

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