Poland has a history of being caught in the crossfire. It happened during the world wars between global powers. It happened again during the decades of the Cold War. And today's era of continually rising tensions between the United States and Russia is no exception, as new developments point to the skies over Eastern Europe as a new tripwire for WWIII.
Bring on the Base
The biggest news came today, when senior Pentagon leadership revealed progress in a plan to build an American airbase in Poland. State Department negotiators are still working out the details, but Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Kathryn Wheelbarger said a basing agreement is on the horizon. “We’re looking at probably six months to a year,” she said.
That’s just the first step in the process, though. U.S. European Command General Curtis Scaparrotti noted that "another two to three years would be needed before we would be dealing with an actual base and the money for that base.”
Last year, President Donald Trump floated the idea of an American base in Poland, and said Warsaw had agreed to pay more than $2 billion to defer costs. (The Polish president also suggested that the base be called “Fort Trump.”)
The Polish military is looking to the United States for help in pushing back against Vladimir Putin’s ambitions for Eastern Europe. Poland made the choice a decade ago to adopt American airplanes and tactics. That decision has produced two squadrons of F-16s that can confront the Russian threat better than the older, Soviet planes that make up the bulk of the Polish air force. As far as an actual American presence in Poland, that's been limited to training deployments and participation in airspace “policing” missions that NATO flies to keep Russia in check. These American rotations end and the fighters go home, leaving the Polish air force on its own. A base would change that dynamic entirely.
PM visited a Polish airbase a few years ago to see the American and Polish pilots in action, and that trip may offer a glimpse of what American pilots may experience at a base on the edge of Cold War 2.0. Russian aircraft cruise right up to the Polish border in what professionals call RECCE missions—reconnaissance endeavors meant to test the enemy's readiness. "They test the time of reactions, radio freqs (frequencies), how our jets move," says Lt. Col. Ireneusz "Palm" Nowak, the Polish base commander at Łask.
Drones Against Putin
In another, less-heralded move, the Pentagon also has opened a new unmanned aerial vehicle base in Poland. On March 1, the Air Force declared the 52nd Expeditionary Operations Group Detachment 2 from its home at Miroslawiec Air Base, Poland.
From here, contractors and military personnel alike will operate MQ-9 Reapers, providing much-needed eyes over the potential battlefields of Eastern Europe. Drones proved incredibly useful on both sides of the hybrid war prosecuted by Russia in Ukraine, and demand for them is high.
“As our environment continues to change, forward locations like Det. 2 become that much more critical at enhancing our ability to safeguard European security,” said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Greg Semmel, Air National Guard assistant to the commander, United States Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa, said when the Reaper base opened.
The Reapers will certainly supply ISR, but will not meet demand. Scaparrotti, the top US commander in Europe, on Wednesday pleaded with Congress for even more eyes aimed at Russia. the Senate Armed Services Committee: “Of concern is my intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capacity given that increasing and growing threat of Russia,” he said. “I need more ISR.”
He also asked for more warships, troop deployments, and cyber defense infrastructure. “I’m not comfortable yet with the deterrent posture that we have in Europe,” Scaparrotti said.