U.S. F-16 fighter jets from Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany made their way to Poland Jan. 4 to work with Polish and Belgian F-16s on air policing missions, a NATO press release shared.
F-16 pilots from the three countries will practice advanced airborne maneuvers in Lask, Poland, while working closely with a Combined Air Operations Center in Uedem, Germany, to strengthen command and control procedures.
The eastern European detachment, comprised partially of Polish F-16s in Siauliai, Lithuania, and enhanced air policing Belgian F-16s in Amari, Estonia, was specifically designed to improve interoperability among allied countries, rehearsing the rapid deployment of aircraft to air bases throughout the region.
NATO air policing efforts may become increasing important as tensions between Ukraine and Russia continue to rise. Ukrainian defense officials have previously stated their growing concern of the possibility of invasion, with one official telling Air Force Magazine — under the condition of anonymity — that their number one priority for fending off Russia would be air defense.
According to the defense official, Ukraine’s air defenses will not be able to stop Russian fighter jets, bombers and attack helicopters from striking eastern Ukraine “[with]in a matter of hours.”
President Joe Biden has previously said that no U.S. troops would be deployed to Ukraine should Russia invade. However, U.S. military forces would likely reinforce their presence in NATO countries in the region and provide additional defensive capabilities to Ukrainian military leaders.
As for the Jan. 4 deployment of F-16s to Poland, “the supplemental U.S. fighters will provide improved capabilities in the region and demonstrate a seamless integration into the long standing Baltic and enhanced Air Policing missions,” Deputy Chief of Staff Operations at NATO Headquarters Allied Air Command Brig. Gen. Joel Carey, said in the press release.
“These deployments demonstrate the Alliance’s ability to rapidly and effectively deploy assets to vital regions to assure partners and safeguard Allied airspace,” Carey added.
Air policing is a tool in the NATO arsenal that “demonstrates NATO’s solidarity, collective resolve, and its ability to adapt and scale its defensive missions and deterrence posture in response to an evolving security situation,” the press release read.
Participating member nations — most recently including Montenegro and the Republic of North Macedonia — deploy aircraft with offensive and defensive capabilities to ensure no suspicious or unannounced flights enter NATO airspace.
Because of its geographic isolation, the U.S. utilizes its own air policing procedures as implemented and carried out by the North American Aerospace Defense Command, but participating U.S. fighter pilots complete air policing qualifications before joining in official NATO activities overseas.