PARIS AIR SHOW: Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James came out swinging today here, forcefully telling reporters that she was here and traveling throughout Europe tp deliver a message of reassurance in the face of a “resurgent Russia.”
“I would say, the biggest threat on my mind [is] the activities of Russia,” she said when asked by a reporter what is the biggest threat America faces. “That’s a big part of why I am here in Europe to hold these discussions.”
She mentioned the two B-2 stealth bombers now at Fairford Air Base in the U.K., as well as older B-52s. She also pointed to a U-2 spyplane operating from Akoritir, Cyprus: Until a few years ago the fact of those flights were top secret.
And she said she could “easily see the day soon when the F-22 might rotate in to Europe to help bolster NATO defense against Russia. Given the symbolic importance of the F-22 as the world’s premier fighter, this would be a stark message for Vladimir Putin to receive.
Gen. Frank Gorenc, sitting with James, noted that the US currently has two “security packages” in Europe, one of A-10 Warthogs (designed to kill Russian tanks) and and one of F-15Cs, a top air-to-air fighter useful in reminding the Russians that they are overmatched in the air most of the time when they challenge us with cross-border military flights. Any doubt this was all about Ukraine? “All those, in combination, are a very robust response to what is going on in Ukraine,” Gorenc told us
When last she appeared at an air show, James was almost all about allied cooperation, the F-35 and suchlike. Today, she made a point of mentioning five airmen who were honored by the French here today because they rescued French airmen after a NATO F-16 crashed during an exercise in Spain. “Most of the crowd recoiled in horror. Not these airmen. They rushed in and saved these French airmen,” she said, asking reporters to make a point of mentioning this. One of the airmen, Staff Sgt. Greggory Swarz, received Franc’e highest military honor, the Legion d’Honneur, for pulling three men to safety after a Greek F-16 crashed into parked airplanes. Nine Frenchmen and the two Greek pilots died. Such acts help cement the bonds between allies and the medal was awarded to Swarz by the French Defense Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian.
Another, presumably less enjoyable part of her mission as she travels through Europe will be to remind those Europeans who do not meet the NATO requirement of spending at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense “of the importance of keeping to the 2 percent commitment.” Britain, for example, will probably sink below the 2 percent level as David Cameron’s Conservative government continues to cut procurement spending in an obsessive quest to bring down the island’s deficit.