The Polish Airbase of Lask has been home to Polish F-16s for quite some time. This June F-16s from the South Carolina Air National Guard’s 169th Fighter Wing join their Polish counterparts in bilateral training. The US F-16s deployed to Europe on 28 May as part of an ‘aviation detachment’, as the Air National Guard calls it.
The South Carolina F-16s are perhaps better known by their ‘Swamp Foxes’ nickname., and usually based at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, SC. The unit also brought aircraft in the relatively new ‘Have Glass’ colour scheme, recognizable by the darker grey colour.
Bilateral Polish-US air force training has taken place since 2012. US F-16s from Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany and Aviano Air Base in Italy have previously deployed to Lask.
Seven F-16 fighters from the US Air Force’s 31 Fighter Wing flew 5 September 2014 from their home base in Aviano, Italy, to 32 Tactical Air Base in Lask (32 BLT in Łasku) in Poland. They will operate from the Polish airbase at least a month ahead and thereby continue the rotating US Air Force presence there started at 9 November 2012. Until earlier this year that rotation was mainly focused on transport aircraft, but then Russia started acting weird at the Crimean peninsula and in Eastern Ukraine.
The American Vipers will train together with Polish pilots and units of the Polish Army during the multinational exercise Anaconda-14. Supporting personnel flew in on 4 September on board a USAF C-130J Hercules.
The new USAF F-16 rotation starts while five Royal Netherlands Air Force Fighting Falcons and 100 Dutch personnel have set up camp at Malbork Airbase (22 BLT) further to the north in Poland. Both NATO detachments provide not only valuable training for the Polish armed forces, but also serve as front-line (Malbork) or back-up unit (Lask) for the NATO Baltic Air Policing Mission that is aimed as deterrence for possible Russian ambitions to again occupy and annex Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – often refered to as “the Baltic States”.
Source: Polish Ministry of Defence with additional reporting by Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
The USAFE 52nd Operations Group Detachment 1 – as the 12 Aviono F-16s and 200 personnel are called – officially hopes “to enhance interoperability, allowing pilots to take advantage of a unique opportunity to operate across the range of military operations with precise full-spectrum capabilities”.
Lt. Col. John Peterson, the 555th Fighter Squadron commander. “When we execute operations in possible real-world situations, we need to have taken the opportunity to train with our fellow NATO nations. In this case, having been invited by the Polish government to train with Polish air force counterparts, it’s a unique opportunity for us to combine forces.”
On the first day of flying, 16 pilots were sent up just to familiarise themselves in the new environment and procedures. As the training continues, the scenarios become more complex, allowing pilots to exercise their capabilities to a comprehensive extent.
Aerial training will continue with the integration of Polish F-16s to strengthen U.S. and Polish communication and combine in-flight tactics.
LATEST UPDATE 17 MARCH 2014 | Twelve USAFE 555th Fighter Squadron F-16s from Aviano Airbase, Italy, have landed on Lask Airbase on 14 and 15 March 2014, together with approximately 200 personnel assigned to the 31st Fighter Wing.
On 6 March 2014 Polish sources already reported the news that the US was sending twelve F-16 Fighting Falcons on exercise to Lask airbase in central Poland next week. The exercise was originally only supposed to involve transport aircraft, but its scope was apparently broadened as a reponse to the Ukrainian and Crimean crisis.
Lask is home to Polands 10 Eskadra Lotnictwa Taktycznego and houses half of the country’s modern block 52 F-16C/D Fighting Falcon fleet. Last week, Poland was one of the first NATO countries to ask for NATO-talks about the conflict between its eastern neighbour Ukraine and Russia, resulting in the Russian annexation of the Crimea peninsula.
Apart from twelve F-16s, the US is also sending 300 troops to the exercise. Earlier, the USAF decided on sending six F-15C Eagles from RAF Lakenheath’s 493rd fighter squadron to Šiauliai Airbase in Lithuania, on top of four aircraft already based here for the Baltic Air Policing mission. A single KC-135R tanker aircraft is joining those aircraft as well.
On 10 March Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said there was no decision made yet on the number of aircraft, but that the USAFE would provide the fighters. Ten US Air Force personnel are stationed at Lask Air Base in Poland to support quarterly rotations of USAF F-16s and C-130s for joint training with the Polish air force. The rotations come from the 52nd Fighter Wing based in Spangdahlem, Germany, with four annual aircraft based at Lask for two weeks in a row.