As Poland appears set to play an increasingly central role in NATO’s ongoing conflict with Russia, the United States has redeployed F-22 Raptor fifth generation fighters to the 32nd Tactical Air Base in the central Polish city of Lask where they will form the 90th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron in support of NATO’s Air Shielding operations. The government in Warsaw has long taken a particularly hard line against Moscow among NATO member states, with Polish nationals under various military contractor organisations playing a very major role in the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian War in support of Kiev. The country has donated several billion dollars worth of military hardware to Ukraine. With Poland bordering not only Ukraine, but also Belarus and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, the F-22s now based there have notably been redeployed from positions in Alaska facing Russia’s far eastern borders. Kaliningrad represents the westernmost reach of Russian territory, and is further from the Russian Far East than it is from New York City in the United States. The redeployment highlights how the territories of Russia and NATO between them effectively encircle the entire world, meeting in Eastern Europe on one front and the Bering Strait on the other.
The F-22 is one of just two Western fifth generation fighters in service, and the only one considered fully operational with wide ranging issues with its lighter counterpart the F-35 preventing it from achieving this status. The fighter’s deployment in Ukraine comes as its Russian rival the Su-57 has played a role in the Ukrainian theatre suppressing enemy air defences and conducting precision standoff strikes – both capabilities the F-22 notably lacks. The Su-57 is still not considered ready for high intensity combat, however, and is fielded in very small numbers, although while it remains near the beginning of its production run the F-22 by contrast is set to begin being retired from service in 2023 due to wide ranging performance issues.
Despite being the premier fighters of NATO and Russia, the F-22 nor the Su-57 are not expected to play major roles should hostilities between Moscow and the Western alliance escalate. The F-22’s small numbers, short ranges, dated avionics, very low availability rates, and inability to network effectively with modern assets, as well as its lack of beyond visual range capabilities other than air to air combat, seriously limit how it can be used, while the Su-57 fleet facing it remains too small and to early in its development to have a seriously impact. Deployment of Raptors to Poland, which that same day formalised an agreement to acquire over 1600 state of the art tanks and self propelled howitzers from South Korea, nevertheless represents an important show of force against Russia, with the F-22’s unique stealth capabilities and advanced flight performance making it a unique kind of threat despite ongoing issues with the aircraft.