Several dozen U.S. fighter jets land in Poland for air combat drills
U.S. Air Force and Polish government sources confirm that American F-15 and F-16 fighter jets have arrived in Poland for joint exercises with host country aircraft; as a Radio Poland report phrases it, “amid concerns over a Russian troop build-up on the border with neighbouring Ukraine.” The exercises are preplanned though the message they send against the backdrop of Ukrainian-Russian tensions can’t be misinterpreted.
Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak announced that several dozen of the F-15 Eagles and F-16 Fighting Falcons landed at Polish airfields and will operate out of air bases in Lask and Krzesiny. The warplanes were accompanied by C-130 military transport planes. U.S. fighter jet squadrons typically consist of twenty-four planes each.
While in Poland the aircraft will participate in an Agile Combat Employment exercise. Last year Defense News described the nature and purpose of Agile Combat Employment:
“As the U.S. Air Force prepares for the possibility of a future conflict with a near-peer adversary, it has run into a massive logistical problem: In a time where Russia and China are investing in layers of air- and ground-launched missiles that threaten American air bases, how can the Air Force ensure it will be able to get its planes off the ground?
“The answer – which the Air Force calls Agile Combat Employment – calls for the service to be able to launch, recover and maintain planes away from its main air bases and instead at unorthodox locations like partner nations’ military airfields or civilian airports.”
The U.S. Air Forces Europe-Air Forces Africa press release on the deployment states: “The U.S. Air Force’s rotational force presence in Poland allows the United States and its allies to prepare to respond decisively to an array of global threats and to better support air operations.”
After the Agile Combat Employment exercise the F-15s will stay in the country to “train bilaterally with the Polish air force to maintain joint readiness while building interoperability capabilities.”
Three years after joining NATO in 1999 the Polish government purchased 48 American-made F-16s, the largest military expenditure in the nation’s history.
The nation has also been turning over air bases, infantry bases and other military installations to the Pentagon and NATO since joining the latter military bloc twenty-two years ago. In the past seven years that military build-up has been increased by the European Deterrence Initiative, which U.S. European Command states “enables the United States to enhance the U.S. deterrence posture, increase the readiness and responsiveness of U.S. forces in Europe, support the collective defense and security of NATO allies, and bolster the security and capacity of U.S. allies and partners.” The five components of the program are described as increased spending, exercises and training, enhanced prepositioning, improved infrastructure and build(ing) partnership capacity.
European Deterrence Initiative operations are conducted under the aegis of Operation Atlantic Resolve, initiated by the Pentagon to increase air, ground and naval presence in Eastern Europe after the war in the Donbass erupted seven years ago.
According to a study on American military presence in Poland conducted by the Congressional Research Service, there are approximately 6,000 U.S. military personnel assigned to Operation Atlantic Resolve at any given time. The U.S. maintains around 4,500 troops in Poland on a rotational basis, divided among Operation Atlantic Resolve, the NATO Missile Defense program and the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence Battle Groups based in the country. (The other three NATO Battle Groups are in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.)
The NATO Battle Group in Poland is U.S.-led and includes an 857-soldier Armored Cavalry Squadron.
Two years ago Washington and Warsaw signed the Joint Declaration on Defense Cooperation Regarding United States Force Posture in the Republic of Poland, which calls for an additional 1,000 American troops to be rotated in Poland and for the following new projects to be launched as listed in the bilateral document:
A. Establishment of a U.S. Division Headquarters (Forward) in Poland.
B. Establishment and joint use by the U.S. Armed Forces and Polish Armed Forces of the Combat Training Center (CTC) in Drawsko Pomorskie, and eventually in a few other locations in Poland. The United States intends to continue to provide U.S. advisors to support the Polish Armed Forces in the establishment of the CTC.
C. Establishment of a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance squadron in Poland. The United States intends to share information derived from this squadron’s operations, as appropriate, in support of our defense objectives.
D. Establishment of an aerial port of debarkation to support the movement of forces for training or contingency.
E. Establishment of an area support group to support current and future U.S. forces in Poland.
F. Establishment of U.S. special operations forces capability in Poland to support air, ground, and maritime operations.
G. Establishment of infrastructure to support the presence of an armored brigade combat team, a combat aviation brigade, and a combat sustainment support battalion.
Enhanced prepositioning, indeed.
The Pentagon and its NATO allies began in earnest to transform Poland into a military hub for containing Belarus and Russia, particularly its Kaliningrad exclave, and to consolidate control of the Baltic Sea region decades ago. Since 2014 they have also expanded military presence in the nation to intervene in Ukraine when indicated.