The United States is to increase its military co-operation with Poland and the Baltic states in response to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said on 5 March.
Speaking at the Senate Armed Services committee in Washington, DC, Hagel said that the United States would expand its military support for Poland, while increasing its participation in the NATO-led Baltic Air Policing mission in a "show of support" for those alliance members closest to Russia.
Hagel did not provide details as to how this increased support might manifest itself, but the US Air Force (USAF) had previously agreed to base Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters and C-130 Hercules Transport aircraft in Poland on a rotating basis, and the two countries also envisage hosting the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptors in Poland by the end of 2018 as part of NATO's wider European missile defence shield.
The Baltic Air Policing mission sees NATO member countries provide air defence duties for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania over our-month rotations from the Lithuanian Air Force base in Siauliai. This mission, which has been going on for a decade and which was declared 'indefinite' by NATO in February 2012, has included contributions from Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey, the UK, and the United States.
Coincidentally, the USAF is currently performing the mission with a flight of four Boeing F-15C Eagle fighters. During its rotations, the United States typically deploys four to six F-15Cs from the 48th Fighter Wing based at RAF Lakenheath in the UK. It is not clear from Hagel's comments whether the increased US involvement will see more aircraft deployed, or whether the same number will be deployed more often.