The Pentagon has deployed F-16 fighter jets to eastern Romania as part of a NATO lockdown of airspace which has been repeatedly violated by Russian drones and cruise missiles.

Four US Air Force F-16 fighter jets arrived at Fetesti Air Base in Romania on Sep. 22, to “further enhance NATO air policing in the Black Sea region,” a North Atlantic Alliance statement said.

Images published by NATO showed what appeared to be four late-model F-16C Block 50 fighters apparently configured for extended air superiority operations with each aircraft carrying auxiliary fuel tanks, twin AAMRAM/AIM-120 long-range missiles, and four AIM-9 medium-range missiles.

Tail lettering identified the jets as originating from the U.S Air Force’s 480th Fighter Squadron from the 52nd Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) based in Spangdahelm Germany. The unit has been routinely deploying sub-units to Poland as part of ongoing NATO air policing operations in the Baltic region.


The newly-transferred American air and ground crew will operate from the Romanian Air Force’s 86th Air Base near the town Fetesti in the south-east of the country, news reports said.

The NATO statement did not mention Russia by name nor did it describe rules of engagement that could potentially have to be used by the US airmen against guided weapons launched by the Russian military, while on patrol.

The American combat jet deployment to the Black Sea coastal region came five days after a Sep. 17 Bucharest announcement that space along Romania’s eastern border would be closed to all aircraft, with NATO enforcing the no-fly zone. The announcement came in response to dozens of Russian missile and drone strikes targeted against Ukrainian civilian port facilities along the Danube River, which forms the regional border that separates Ukraine from NATO territory.

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Though Ukraine’s membership was not on the agenda, NATO pledged long-term aid for Ukraine even as future US continued participation in the Alliance remains uncertain.

Russian kamikaze drones aimed at Ukrainian grain-handling port facilities on the waterway twice missed in September raids and detonated in Romania. The incidents embarrassed Romania’s National Liberal Party-led government, whose leaders have adopted a muted, non-confrontational stance towards Russia’s 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine.


Romanian F-16s based at Fetesti and other airfields in eastern Romania are regularly reinforced by combat elements from other NATO states to conduct air policing operations over the Black Sea, with Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Great Britain having previously contributed contingents.

While, according to open-source data, the US Air Force is the main operator of military reconnaissance aircraft to the west and central Black Sea since Russia’s invasion, US deployment of combat aircraft to eastern Romania has been relatively uncommon. US Air Force F-16s from Germany and ltaly operated from Fetesti base in 2022, but both contingents had departed by the end of the year, news reports said.

Repeated Russian drone and missile strikes against Ukrainian civilian infrastructure some only a few hundred meters from the Romanian border is just the latest example of potential clashes between NATO and Russian military forces operating in the region.


NATO observation and reconnaissance aircraft over the Black Sea near the Russia-occupied Crimean peninsular are a continuing potential flashpoint because the Kremlin believes they are gathering targeting data to pass to Kyiv military intelligence. As a result, Russian air force combat jets routinely harass and interfere with NATO aircraft operating in international air space.

On March 14 a Russian air force Su-27 accidentally collided with a US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper, drone in international air space some 100 kilometers south-west of Crimea resulting in its destruction. Notwithstanding NATO’s Article 5 which would allow the alliance to respond with military force against attacks on NATO units and personnel, the incident was downplayed in both Moscow and Washington.

 Almost exactly a year earlier, on Sep. 29 2022, a Russian Su-27 intending to shoot to kill fired two missiles against an unarmed Royal Air Force RC-135 flying over the Black Sea, but both weapons malfunctioned, according to a BBC report.

London officials at the time acknowledged the incident which was portrayed as accidental although it later transpired that it was intentional. Aa an attack on a NATO aircraft it could effectively be interpreted as an act of war against the Alliance.

The last major NATO air defense training event in the Black Sea region took place in late July with the participation of air forces from Romania, France, Germany, and the US Navy. 


Fetisti air base reportedly will be the selected by NATO states for the training of Ukrainian pilots on United States-made F-16 fighter jets. The training according to official announcements was set to being in August. Officials in Kyiv have said that the Ukrainian pilots undergoing training in Romania would not participate in any NATO actions taken against Russian violations of Romanian air space from within Ukraine.

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