US Air Force F-22 air superiority fighters reinforce NATO presence in Estonia

U.S. Air Force photo

The United States Air Force deployed F-22 Raptor fifth-generation fighters to Amari Air Base, in Estonia. 

12 Raptors were initially deployed to Poland’s Powidz Air Base in April 2023. They belong to the 94th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron housed in Langley Air Force Base (LFI), Virginia.  

The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, which entered service in 2005, is the world’s first mass-produced fifth-generation fighter jet, as well as the first air superiority fighter to use stealth technology. “It cannot be matched by any known or projected fighter aircraft, making it a highly strategic platform to support NATO Air Shielding,” the USAF commented.  

The redeployment of the fifth-generation fighters is taking place in the framework of NATO Allied Air Command’s Air Shielding mission to deter aggression in the Baltic Sea region. The operation was described as an ‘Agile Combat Employment’ deployment. It is unclear how many of the fighters were redeployed to Estonia.  

An F-22 Raptor fighter during a previous deployment to Amari Air Base (U.S. Air Force photo)

What is Agile Combat Employment?  

The Agile Combat Employment (ACE) doctrine means pilots and technicians are capable of quickly dispersing across the country if their home base becomes compromised. Such deployments train aircrews to operate with minimal infrastructure.  

Dispersed operations allow an air force in wartime to complicate enemy targeting by multiplying operating locations and using civilian airfields or improvised road bases. With the looming return of high-intensity warfare, and likely observant of the situation in Ukraine, Western armed forces found renewed interest in this Cold War-era concept.  

In early May 2023, the USAF Special Operations Command made history during Exercise Agile Chariot by successfully landing an MQ-9 Reaper drone on a highway for the first time. 

Reinforcing the eastern flank of Europe 

The Raptors will be operating alongside the Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons conducting NATO’s enhanced Air Policing mission out of Amari. 

“The Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are situated on a critical air, land, and sea corridor, which requires a coordinated approach between Allies to maintain and sustain international freedom of maneuver throughout the region,” NATO explained in a statement. 

NATO Baltic Air Policing mission started in 2004 when the Baltic States joined NATO. It is one of the main missions of NATO air forces, which rotate to protect Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian airspaces from incursions, as these countries have no airborne capability of their own. 

Russian military aircraft flying close to Baltic airspace are regularly intercepted, identified and escorted away from NATO’s area of interest. 

“Any aircraft that are not communicating with Air Traffic Control or on a recognized flight plan will be intercepted by us to ensure we know who they are and maintain flight safety for all airspace users,” an unnamed Typhoon pilot speaking on behalf of the RAF explained after one of these interceptions. 

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