US Packs Military Punch Deploying First Strike Aircraft Near Russia’s Borders (foreign policy savvies call for dialogue)
Andrei AKULOV | 31.08.2015 | WORLD

US Packs Military Punch Deploying First Strike Aircraft Near Russia’s Borders (foreign policy savvies call for dialogue)

In June at the Paris Air Show, US air force chief Deborah James first publicly floated the idea of deploying the F-22 (the Raptor), America's most sophisticated fighter plane to Europe to counter Moscow's actions in the Ukraine.

Two months later the Pentagon turned it into a reality. The United States is to deploy F-22 fighter jets to Europe as part of efforts to support eastern European members of the NATO alliance against Russia.

The inaugural deployment of America's most sophisticated fighter jet to Europe is rich in symbolism and tells a lot in practice.

James did not give details about the specific number of planes, date or location of the deployment but said it was in line with defence secretary Ash Carter’s recent call for a strong and balanced approach to Russia

This is the first ever deployment of F-22 to Europe outside air shows is seen as a move to boost NATO’s air strike capability as the relations with Russia become more tense.

According to General Mark Welsh James, US air force chief of staff, the F-22’s deployment in Europe would allow US to test the ability of the jets to communicate and fight together with the Eurofighter and other advanced warplanes and gain more experience with the European terrain.

F-22 is the fifth generation multirole aircraft. It’s a single-seat, twin-engine, all-weather stealth tactical fighter aircraft was designed by Lockheed and Boeing as an air superiority fighter but can also be used for ground attack, electronic warfare and signals intelligence. The Raptors act as electronic warfare enabled sensor-rich planes to provide data key to other aircraft: they escort strike packages into and out of the target area while gathering details about the enemy systems and spreading intelligence to other “networked” assets supporting the mission to improve the overall situational awareness.

«The United States would not be deploying F-22s if it did not consider it necessary», said Konrad Muzyka, a military analyst on Eastern Europe for defense publisher IHS Jane's. «It is going to be a massive boost in capabilities because there is no other aircraft in the world with the capabilities of the F-22», said Muzyka. «It is the only operational fifth-generation aircraft presently in service in the world».

Raptors have often taken part in rotational deployments in the Asia-Pacific region since 2009, but have never been deployed to Europe. It’s still not known which airbases are being considered for such deployment. The countries to host the fifth-generation planes know well they are doomed to become targets for Russia’s response in case of hostilities.

The U.S. has already started two 6-month TSPs (Theater Security Packages), made up of F-15s and A-10s and stepping up its presence at regional exercises with NATO allies and partners, attended also by B-52 strategic bombers and A-10 attack planes. According to Fiscal Times, the US Air Force announced in early August that it would deploy more of the aircraft to Europe this fall.

The 23rd Wing at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia announced it will send 12 attack planes and crews to Central and Eastern European to bolster NATO’s “Operation Atlantic Resolve,” an ongoing show of military might meant to deter what it calls “Russian aggression” in the region.In March, the Air Force deployed a dozen A-10s from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona to Romania and the Czech Republic.

Somehow the news about F-22s and other aircraft deployments Europe coincides with the reports about the US decision to deploy B-52s strategic bombers to South Korea. According to US Stars and Stripes military outlet, South Korea and U.S. are discussing the deployment of strategic U.S. assets to the Korean peninsula, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said in a briefing on Aug. 24.

Although the Defense Ministry spokesman did not say which U.S. assets are being considered for deployment in the region, sources cited by the South KJorean Yohap News Agency suggested that the U.S. forces might include the B-52 Stratofortress bombers, and a nuclear-powered submarine currently stationed in Yokosuka, Japan.

Before that three B-2 strategic bombers were deployed to Guam on Aug. 7 to conduct familiarization training activities in the Pacific region and “maintain readiness there”.

Actually, there nothing tactical aviation could not do in case there is a conflict with North Korea. The bases are there, the aircraft carrier groups can boost the capability at any time, Tomahawk long-range missiles are abundant. Then why deploy strategic bombers? The flight time is going to be greatly reduced in case the aircraft are used against Russia. If that is the purpose of their relocation, then the move is justified. No matter all the talk about the need to defend South Korea, this possibility is taken into consideration by Russian experts.

The tensions are growing too high. This the time for think tanks to come up with initiatives to reduce the danger of conflict. And they do.

This month the European Leadership Network - a British NGO staffed by dozens of retired European military officials and politicians - published a report entitled Preparing for the Worst: Are Russian and NATO Military Exercises Making War in Europe More Likely?

The ELN goes on to answer its own question: Yes, the two sides are preparing for a full-scale confrontation.

A task force made up of former Russian and western officials proposed on August 26 new talks aimed at a new set of agreements between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Moscow to prevent an incident between military forces.

A group of former officials, including the former foreign ministers of Poland and Russia, rolled out a paper on August 26 morning proposing a new round of dialogue between NATO and Moscow aimed at establishing rules for navy ships and air-force fleets. It has expressed its concern over a possible military escalation in the crisis between Russia and the West and has called for a new agreement between NATO and Russia to prevent accidental incidents or miscalculations leading to an escalation of tension and even confrontation.

NATO has also held exercises mainly in Eastern Europe and the Baltics. Along with its partners, the 28-nation alliance will hold its biggest military exercise in more than a decade in October. The report said an »action-reaction cycle» was now under way between NATO and Russia that could be hard to stop. The alliance has suspended all practical and military cooperation with Russia, but can still convene political meetings.

«History is littered with examples of international crises and tensions that developed a momentum of their own and resulted in conflict even when no one side intended it», the report says. The signatories of the paper include Russian foreign policy gurus like Vyacheslav Trubnikov (Former Director, Russian Foreign Intelligence), Igor Ivanov (former Russian Foreign Minister), Alexei Gromyko (Deputy Director of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences) and Igor Yurgens (Chairman of the Board of the Institute of Contemporary Development, Vice President of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs). The Task Force is supported by independent research from a consortium of think-tanks, including the European Leadership Network in London and the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) in Moscow.

The other step in the right direction would revive a Russia-US dialogue on military matters. The UN General Assembly session to take place this September could be used for giving the process a new lease of life, for instance if the presidents of US and Russia met to discuss the burning issues.

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All the signs of a new Cold War are present. The military stand-off becomes too dangerous. An accidental spark could set a big fire. As history shows, the risk of accident increases whenever the situation markedly deteriorates. It is therefore unwise to deny the obvious fact that the current state of affairs is dangerous enough to justify starting a dialogue urgently. Boosting first strike capability by deploying state-of-the-art aircraft in the vicinity of Russian borders cannot but make Moscow take retaliatory measures. At that, Russia has received signals from the United Stated about restoration of cooperation channels and does not intend to refuse dialogue, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the youth forum Territory of Sound Judgement on the Klyazma River on August 24. The top diplomat noted that Russia is ready to work with the United States and European Union, but it will not give up its interests and identity. 

«We are ready to work constructively with partners from US and EU on an equality basis, but we will not give up independent domestic and foreign policy», Lavrov said. He also reiterated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statement that Russia «does not trade its sovereignty».

Lavrov noted that in the modern world, relations between countries should be based on dialogue and consideration of mutual interests. «I think that if Western partners followed the same principles, there would have been no confrontation with moving NATO closer to Russian borders, there would have been no Ukrainian crisis», he added.

Under the circumstances, it would be a folly to lose the chance mentioned by the Russian Foreign Minister.

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