An F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off March 13 from Aviano Air Base, Italy, to augment the Poland Aviation Detachment at Lask Air Base. (Airman 1st Class Deana Heitzman/ / Air Force)
Six F-16 fighters from the 555th Fighter Squadron from Aviano Base, Italy, have arrived in Poland to augment the U.S. military’s presence there amid regional tensions following Russia’s Feb. 28 incursion into Ukraine, officials said.
The fighters landed on Thursday afternoon and another six F-16s are expected to arrive at Lask Air Base, Poland, by the end of the week, officials said. In addition to the 12 fighters, roughly 150 airmen will augment the ongoing training mission at the base.
A small team of roughly 10 airmen is permanently stationed at Lask Air Base, which hosts two-week training rotations for F-16 crews. It is not known how long the F-16s and airmen will stay in Poland, said Defense Department spokeswoman Eileen Lainez.
“Augmenting the AVDET [aviation detachment] was a deliberate choice to demonstrate to our allies that U.S. commitments to our collective defense responsibilities are credible and remain in force,” Lainez said in an email Thursday to Air Force Times. “The work we’re doing with Poland does just that.”
On March 6, the U.S. sent a KC-135 and six F-15 fighters to Lithuania to help safeguard Baltic airspace, reinforcing the four F-15s that have been there since Jan. 1.
And NATO is sending Airborne Early Warning and Control Aircraft to conduct reconnaissance flights over Poland and Romania to “monitor the crisis in Ukraine,” a NATO spokesman said Monday.
In April three C-130s and about 100 airmen from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, are expected to arrive at Poland’s Powidz Air Base on a regularly scheduled training rotation, said Air Force Lt. Col. David Westover, a spokesman for U.S. European Command. It is too soon to know if the two rotations could overlap.
The U.S. and its allies have denounced Russia’s moves to annex the Crimea region of Ukraine, which will hold a referendum on Sunday in which voters are expected to approve formally joining Russia. The Russian military has massed thousands of troops, tanks and helicopters on the border of eastern Ukraine, which is home to ethnic Russians, according to media reports.