The U.S. Air Force has confirmed that its F-35s flew over Eastern Europe and even carried out refueling missions in the area, days after the beginning of the Russian invasion.
Following the Russian invasion, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies have declared that they will not send their troops to war in Ukraine. However, that isn't stopping them from being prepared should the situation escalate into a bigger war.
According to Business Insider, an F-35 Lightning II aircraft flew from Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany to Southeastern Poland on February 27. A day later, the U.S. Air Force flew two F-35s and a KC-Stratotanker in the airspace.
F-35s in full stealth mode
According to analysts, the F-35s seen in the images released by the USAF are not carrying Radar Cross Section (RCS) enhancers or reflectors during this mission. The F-35 is a fifth-generation fighter jet and is known for its stealth capabilities.
However, during routine missions, the plane is equipped with a radar reflector to make its presence known. If needed, the ground staff even go ahead and put a transponder on the aircraft to help coordinate movement with air traffic controllers (ATC) during ferrying missions.
In the case of the recent mission though, the reflectors are clearly missing.
An open-source intelligence expert that goes by the name of Intel Walrus wrote on Twitter that he had geolocated the images shared by the Air Force to a town name Kozienice in Poland, less than a hundred miles from Belarus.
I've geolocated one of the images (taken on February 28th) to above the Polish town of Kozienice. A public ADSB track of a KC-135 of the 100th ARW from the same day also matches that location showing the F-35A was ~140 km from Belarus and Ukraine when the image was taken. 2/4 pic.twitter.com/BdxsHJcldk— IntelWalrus (@IntelWalrus) March 1, 2022
By calling the refueling mission that is captured in these images as Fueling NATOs collective defense, the U.S. is clearly stating its intent in backing its allies and fighting together if need be.
But why publicize your ability to strike at close quarters and in stealth mode to an adversary? Under usual circumstances, it would not be wise but these are obviously uncertain times.
Publishing these images could be seen as a warning to Russian troops. Even though NATO may not have troops on the ground at the moment, it could arrive at the scene very quickly, especially, if the Russian troops have grander plans of going beyond Ukraine.
We also know that the F-35 rival Russian 'Checkmate' is still under construction and not operational. But for the time being, Ukraine is turning out to be a tough cookie to crack for Russian troops.