Poland has signed a deal with the United States on the deployment from 2013 of aircraft and training staff to help bolster the EU nation's military capacity, Poland's defense minister said June 13.
"This agreement brings with something new, namely the permanent presence of American soldiers on Polish soil," minister Bogdan Klich told reporters in Warsaw after formally signing a memorandum on the deployments with the U.S. ambassador to Warsaw, Lee Feinstein.
"In this way, it prepares the permanent presence of American troops on Polish soil around 2018, in connection with the realization of the most important project - the anti-missile shield," Klich said, referring to the anti-missile shield project which NATO has adopted as its own.
Although Brussels and Washington insist the missile shield is to ward off threats from so-called rogue states like Iran, Moscow sees the plan a security threat.
According to a Polish defense ministry statement the memorandum inked June 13 foresees "the rotational deployment to Poland of the U.S. multi-task F-16 aircraft and C-130 transport aircraft, supported by the U.S. Air Force's Aviation Detachment deployed on a continuous basis".
It said there would be four annual rotations of aircraft and trainers, two of them involving F-16 fighters, with the first rotation of aircraft taking place in 2013.
Poland has a fleet of 48 state-of-the-art F-16 aircraft, and an F-16 base located in Lask, near the western Polish city of Poznan.
"We believe that this will become a regional hub for NATO air operations in Central Europe," Feinstein told reporters.
"This aviation detachment also has an important consequence for future regional cooperation with our other NATO allies working together with Poland and the United States and even with other partners," Feinstein said, without naming the partners in question.
Last week, fighter jets from NATO members Poland and Turkey became the alliance's first ever aircraft to team up with Russian jets in an unprecedented joint Russia-NATO anti-terrorism exercise aimed at preventing attacks such as the Sept. 11, 2001, strikes in the United States.
Last year also saw the first three rotations of unarmed training batteries of U.S. Patriot missiles in Poland, which Warsaw's Cold War-era master Moscow slammed. Four rotations are planned this year.
Ex-communist countries such as Poland that have joined NATO since the alliance began expanding in eastern Europe in 1999 see U.S. ties as their main security bulwark and have contributed troops in return.
Poland sent forces to Iraq as part of former U.S. President George W. Bush's "coalition of the willing" and is a major contributor in Afghanistan.