The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter jet has become a cornerstone of NATO’s air policing missions in the East European region. In a unique teaming, the F-35s are flying these missions with MiG-29 fighter jets.
On March 29, the F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office (JPO) took to Twitter to post a video of Dutch F-35 and Polish MiG-29 fighters flying interception training missions over Malbork, Poland, under the banner of NATO’s Air Policing Mission.
The video has been published following reports that a set of air policing drills conducted earlier this month saw participation from Polish MiG-29 and F-16 fighters, French Rafale jets, and Dutch F-35 stealth jets. These aircraft together simulated intercepts and conducted approach, handover, and escort procedures.
As per reports, Polish MiG-29 and Dutch F-35 aircraft took off from Malbork Air Base to conduct integration training above Polish airspace. They practiced international formation flying with two Polish C-295 CASA cargo aircraft alongside Polish F-16 jets and French Rafale fighters.
At the time, the Allied Air Command Deputy Chief of Staff Plans, Turkish Air Force Brigadier General Omer Nafiz Gülmezoglu, said the maneuvers NATO jets undertook showcased NATO’s capabilities to plan, coordinate, and execute harmonized air operations.
He added that the Joint Force Air Component at Ramstein planned the interplay of fighters with transport and refueling aircraft to choreograph this show of Allied preparedness and assurance along the eastern flank.
“The drills also served to integrate NATO Air Power capability across different aircraft generations, assuring the various fighter jets can operate together,” the report noted.
— F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office (@theF35JPO) March 29, 2023
This is significant as the combination of fifth-generation US-origin fighters and fourth-generation Soviet-origin fighters is rather intriguing. Of 30 NATO countries, only three – Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Poland – operate MiG-29 fighter jets.
Even though the fourth-generation MiG-29 and the fifth-generation F-35 have been training together, the difference between the capabilities of the two aircraft is enormous. While the MiG-29 is an air superiority aircraft, the F-35 is a multi-role stealth fighter jet.
Former Canadian air force lieutenant colonel Billie Flynn, who served as a senior F-35 test pilot, said, “Asking even a very capable MiG-29 pilot “to transition to this cosmic spaceship is far too much to grasp.”
“Every part of how we mechanize the aircraft in the West is different from how Russians design their aircraft — every part of the philosophy of how you fly an airplane, how you design cockpits, how you process information is different,” Flynn told The Aviationist.
When asked what he thought about this unique teaming flying missions over Poland, Indian Air Force veteran and military expert Vijainder K. Thakur told EurAsian Times: “The F-35 has excellent, optical and passive RF sensors that allow it to locate targets on the ground. They can relay target information to forward-deployed fighters acting as weapons trucks.
In other words, an F-35 deployed over Poland could stream targeting data to Ukrainians, MiG 29 fighters operating over Ukraine. The F–35 would perform the role of an invisible sensor operating in the safety of Polish air space.
“The F-35 could switch on its radar and provide Ukrainian MiGs targeting information for engaging Russian cruise missiles”, he added.
Dutch F-35s Aiding NATO’S Deter And Defend Mission
Eight F-35 fighter jets from the Royal Dutch Air Force have been stationed at Malbork Air Station in Poland since the end of January. They support NATO’s Deterrence Defense role along the eastern flank by participating in training exercises with allies and conducting air patrol missions.
“Our jets have been closely integrated into NATO’s Deter and Defend posture here at Malbork with our twofold mission,” said Lieutenant Colonel Guido Schols, commander of the 160-strong F-35 detachment.
“Under the control of the Polish Air Operations Centre in Warsaw and NATO’s Combined Air Operations Centre at Uedem, we have monitored the skies and conducted regular training activities with Allies showcasing our F-35s’ capability across the spectrum of combined and joint Air Power missions,” he added.
Allied fighter jets took off four times in alert scrambles to locate, confront, and accompany Russian military aircraft flying over the Baltic Sea close to Alliance borders. The jets practiced defensive counter-air, integrated air and missile defense, suppression and destruction of enemy air defense, fundamental fighter maneuvers, air combat maneuvers, and training intercepts with other NATO counterparts.
The first operational NATO deployment of Dutch F-35s took place in Bulgaria in 2022 to support the Alliance’s improved air policing in the region’s southeast.
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