Netherlands sends two F-35 fighters to Eastern Europe
Two Dutch F-35 fighter jets will be deployed to Eastern Europe to protect NATO airspace, the Ministry of Defense announced on Thursday. It will be the first time the Netherlands uses the F-35 aircraft in an official deployment.
Details of the mission were not revealed. The fighter jets already left the Leeuwarden Air Base, the ministry said.
The deployment is separate to military aid the Netherlands said on Thursday it was likely to sent to Ukraine. In addition to sniper rifles and radar equipment, the Netherlands will increase the number of helmets and flak vests sent to Ukraine. Earlier in the day, the country was invaded on three different fronts by Russia in a dramatic escalation of the eight-year conflict between the two countries.
Until this week, the conflict was largely confined to Russia's invasion of the Crimean Peninsula, and its support of rebel separatists in two eastern regions. Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said that Dutch troops would only be sent to defend NATO territory, and not Ukraine.
The F-35 deployment announced on Thursday is also separate from an upcoming planned mission. The Netherlands will sent two F-35s, a reserve aircraft, and about 90 crew members to patrol the airspace of southeastern Europe. They will be based in Bulgaria in April and May.
"The aircraft will then carry out so-called Quick Reaction Alert tasks from Bulgaria. The fighters can be deployed immediately to intercept unknown aircraft over the NATO treaty area," the ministry said when it announced the mission earlier this year.