The United States Air Force Boeing C-32A, carrying the US Secretary of Defence, landed in Vilnius, Lithuania, in the late evening of February 18, 2022.
Wheels down in Lithuania, a steadfast NATO Ally with whom the United States shares many values and bonds. I’m looking forward to working together towards our common goal of a safe and secure region. #WeAreNATO pic.twitter.com/mFMBaY7ASq— Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (@SecDef) February 18, 2022
The C-32 is a modified Boeing 757-200, which serves the Special Air Mission, carrying senior political officials of the United States.
The aircraft arrived in Vilnius from Poland, where US Secretary of Defence Lloyd J. Austin III met with President Andrzej Duda and other officials to discuss “mutual concerns about the situation in Ukraine”.
In Lithuania, Austin will hold meetings with the Defence Ministers of the three Baltic States, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, the Lithuanian Defence Ministry said.
@SecDef was welcomed in Vilnius today by Viceminister @AbukeviciusM & Defence Policy Director @vaidasu. During this important visit Lloyd J. Austin will hold a bilateral meeting w/ acting DefMin @GLandsbergis & @LTU_Army leadership, and a joint meeting w/ DefMins of . pic.twitter.com/CbgqkAhwou— Lithuanian MOD (@Lithuanian_MoD) February 18, 2022
The Defence Secretary’s visits to the region come amid heightened geopolitical tensions and growing fear of war between Ukraine and Russia.
While Ukrainian airspace remains open, several airlines have already taken the decision to avoid the area. Ukrainian air carriers have had to move some aircraft to different countries at the request of lessors and due to insurance requirements.
The C-32 is a smaller alternative to the modified Boeing 747 known as VC-25A, or the Air Force One when the United States president is onboard. It can also be used by the president for domestic flights, or when it needs to land in smaller airports that could not house the VC-25A.
Despite previous plans to replace the ageing C-32 fleet, the US Department of Defense abandoned the idea in 2021. In its 2022 budget estimate, published in May 2021, the Pentagon said that after an analysis of alternatives, the C-32 Executive Transport Recapitalization program “concluded in September 2020 with no impact or actions for the C-32 fleet.”