The Air Force has half a dozen F-22 Raptors en route to Poland as part of the latest effort to protect NATO allies against Russian land grabs following the invasion of Ukraine.
Air Force officials told Military.com that six F-22s arrived Tuesday evening at Royal Air Force Lakenheath in England. The jets are from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
Those F-22s will be heading to the 32nd Tactical Air Base in Łask, Poland, "ensuring NATO Allies are better able to safeguard and protect Alliance territory," a press release detailing the mission said.
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The NATO summit in Madrid last month reinforced that countries needed to do more to convince Russia not to try to claim more territory beyond its borders. Two countries on Russia's doorstep, Finland and Sweden, are in the process of joining NATO, hoping the alliance can provide greater security.
Ukraine had talked for years about a possible bid for membership, but hadn't pursued joining NATO partially due to threats from Russian leader Vladimir Putin, threats that Putin has emulated in talking about Finland and Sweden's applications.
While an influx of aircraft was brought to NATO countries in Europe in February, the alliance is now focusing on the concept of air shielding -- deploying a variety of planes and missiles throughout Europe to create a "near seamless shield from the Baltic to Black Seas," according to the release.
Adding the Air Force's F-22s, the service's most advanced fighter aircraft which can reach supersonic speeds and carry a variety of guided missiles and bombs, sends a serious sign to Russia that NATO is keeping a close eye on its borders.
"It cannot be matched by any known or projected fighter aircraft, making it a highly strategic platform to support NATO Air Shielding," the press release from U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa said.
The U.S. and allies are hoping to offer direct aid to Ukraine in the near future in the form of modern jets and training.
U.S. House lawmakers recently approved $100 million as part of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act to train Ukrainian pilots to fly U.S. fighter jets as the campaign against Russia rolls into a fifth month.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said the U.S. has been providing the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, to the Ukrainians. With a range of about 50 miles, it has allowed strikes deep into Russian-held territory.
Milley described the fighting in eastern Ukraine as a "grinding war of attrition" with tens of thousands of artillery rounds being fired each day, resulting in a high number of casualties and little progress by either side.
"In terms of actual ground gained, [there's been] very, very little by the Russians, relative to all of Ukraine," he said.
-- Travis Tritten contributed to this report.
-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.
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