U.S. Moves Six Fighter Jets to Baltics, More Airmen to Poland

Image: American aircraft on sorties from RAF Lakenheath, England
An American F-15 fighter aircraft.Graham Barclay / Getty Images

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The U.S. military is increasing its presence in Poland and the Baltics in response to the crisis in Ukraine, officials said Wednesday.

The military will deploy jets now in the Britian — six F-15 fighters and one KC-135 re-fueler — to Siauliai Air Base in Lithuania, a U.S. defense official told NBC News.

The U.S. already has four F-15s in Lithuania as part of a NATO’s Baltic air policing rotation — jets that fly patrols and respond to airspace violations in the Baltics.

The NATO air patrols have been in place for a decade and include military aircraft from Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Belgium, Poland, Romania, Turkey, and Czech Republic.

The U.S. rotation lasts from Jan. 1 through April 30, 2014.

At the request of Poland, the Pentagon is beefing up the number of U.S. airmen assigned to an aviation detachment in Poland that trains the Polish Air Force.

The United States has 10 Air Force personnel there now, as well as F-16s and C-130s. The U.S. defense official could not say how many additional airmen would go to Poland, but did say that they would arrive sometime this week — likely tomorrow.

In a Senate hearing on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel refused to speculate on what the United States military response would be if Russian troops, who now control Crimea, advance toward Kiev.

Hagel also said supplying additional arms to Ukraine would be a joint NATO or presidential decision.

Canada is sending two observers to track military activities on the Crimean peninsula, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement Wednesday.

— Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube