US ups air defense presence in Europe

The United States is sending six more F-15 fighter jets and one KC-135 refueling aircraft to Poland, according to a defense official Wednesday. 

The move follows a NATO meeting on Tuesday called by Poland after Russian forces moved into the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea earlier this week. 

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The additional aircraft will augment part of an existing NATO mission to police Baltic airspace. The U.S. and 14 other allies have provided aircraft on a rotational basis to the mission over the last 10 years. 

Currently, the U.S. contributes four F-15s. The addition will bring the U.S. contribution up to 10 during its rotation, which is January through April. 

The additional aircraft will come from those currently based in the United Kingdom and will be deployed to Siauliai Air Base in Lithuania.

“This action comes at the request of our Baltic Allies and further demonstrates our commitment to NATO security,” a defense official said. 

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced during a Senate hearing on Wednesday that the U.S. was also “stepping up joint training through our aviation detachment in Poland.” 

Since late 2012, Poland has hosted 10 U.S. airmen to support rotations of F-16s and C-130s used for joint training with the Polish Air Force. 

“The Department of Defense is currently consulting with our Polish allies on increasing activities associated with this detachment,” the defense official said.