KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — U.S. Air Forces in Europe is standing up the first U.S. aviation detachment in Poland later this year, a move that Polish officials say represents the first “permanent presence” of U.S. military members on Polish soil.
The detachment will host periodic rotations of U.S. F-16 fighter jets and C-130 cargo aircraft, whose crews will visit Poland and conduct training for one- to two-week intervals throughout the year, said USAFE spokesman Maj. Rickardo Bodden.
About 10 airmen will maintain the detachment and provide support for flight operations, a duty that will be a 12-month, short-tour assignment, and not one requiring deployment or temporary duty orders, USAFE officials said. As such, airmen can be selected from anywhere in the Air Force, officials said.
The aircraft will rotate from both USAFE and stateside units, though it’s “too early to tell how many total aircraft or which units will be involved,” Bodden said.
The first rotation is expected to occur at the end of this year, he said. There are no plans to permanently base U.S. aircraft in Poland, Bodden said.
Despite the small scale of the U.S. operation, “this is an extremely significant development,” said Andrew Michta, senior trans-Atlantic fellow and director of the Warsaw office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
“This is regarded here as mostly a political signal” that the United States “is serious about the security of Poland and its neighbors, (the other) NATO allies in the region,” Michta said, noting the recent change in the U.S. defense posture with greater focus on Asia and the Middle East.
Blanka Kolenikova, a Europe country analyst with the London-based research group IHS Global Insight, said there were concerns the deal could hamper Poland’s efforts to revive its ties with Russia, since Russia had warned that it would counter the move if Poland decides to host U.S. fighter jets on its soil.
But, she said via email, “In my view, the Russia-Poland ties have not considerably deteriorated since the deal was signed. Needless to say, both countries remain wary, and the two’s relations could easily flare up in the future.”
Plans for the detachment were outlined in a memorandum of understanding signed last spring by U.S. Ambassador to Poland Lee Feinstein and Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich, said a news release from the U.S. Embassy in Poland.
The agreement states that training exercises between the two countries’ air forces may include the use of fifth-generation fighter aircraft, subject to the availability of appropriate ranges and facilities for such purposes. Poland in 2009 completed the acquisition of 48 new U.S. F-16 aircraft and began acquiring five C-130 aircraft, the agreement notes.
The detachment will be located at the 32nd Tactical Air Base in Łask, southwest of Warsaw, an embassy spokesman said.
Maj. Gen. David Scott, USAFE Operations, Strategic Deterrence, and Nuclear Integration director, visited the base last week, where he met with Polish military officials to discuss the detachment, according to an embassy news release.
The rotation of aircraft is another sign of the growing military presence in Poland, where in 2010, Germany-based soldiers began deploying to help the country bolster its air-defense systems.
Michta, of the Marshall Fund, said the aircraft rotations are a gesture by the United States to reciprocate Poland’s security contributions, especially to Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It will become a very significant American ally in the coming decade,” he said.
Poland is a key partner in the U.S. missile defense plan for Europe, as the country is expected to host elements of the U.S. anti-missile shield by 2018.