USAF F-15s, F-16s, and C-130s are training in Poland in an agile combat employment exercise that comes as Russia executes a massive buildup on the border with neighboring Ukraine, though U.S. officials say the exercise was long-planned.
F-15Es from the 492nd Fighter Squadron at RAF Lakenheath, England; F-16s from the 480th Fighter Squadron at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany; and C-130s from the 37th Airlift Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, arrived in Poland for the ACE event on April 19.
The F-15Es and F-16s will operate out of 32nd Tactical Air Base in Lask, Poland, and the 31st Tactical Air Base in Krzesiny, while the C-130s will operate out of Chievres Air Base in Belgium, according to a release. After the event, the F-15Es will remain to train with the Polish air force.
“Opportunities to train alongside our Polish allies are incredibly valuable and critically important. It allows us to hone our combat skills, build lasting relationships and learn to operate seamlessly as a combined force,” said Gen Jeffrey L. Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces Europe-Air Forces Africa commander, in the release. “The reoccurring aviation detachment rotations make both nations stronger by developing highly capable Airmen ready to deliver combat airpower, anytime and anywhere.
Within the last couple weeks, Russia has increased its forces along the border with Ukraine in occupied Crimea. Pentagon spokesman John F. Kirby said April 19 that this buildup is “certainly larger” than in 2014 when Russia invaded Crimea, and he called for Russia to be more clear about their intentions. Moscow has said the build-up is for training, but it is “not completely clear” to the Pentagon that this is true, Kirby said.
The exercise in Poland is “fairly routine,” and “not a specific reaction to what’s going on” in Crimea, Kirby said. Russia has deployed more than 100,000 troops to annexed Crimea, in a move that shows “the risk of further escalation is evident,” said Josep Borrell, the European Union’s top diplomat, according to Reuters. U.S. European Command boss Gen. Tod. D. Wolters told lawmakers last week that he sees a “low-to-medium” risk that Russia will invade Ukraine.
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