US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is traveling to Poland and Germany this week. (US Defense Department)
ABOARD A US MILITARY AIRCRAFT — The Pentagon plans to tout the capabilities of US-made weapons when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other senior defense officials meet with their counterparts in Poland on Thursday.
Unlike many US allies that are cutting defense spending, Poland’s defense budget is increasing. Its Defense Ministry plans to spend 32 billion zloty (US $10.4 billion) in 2014, an increase of about 2 percent over last year. The budget is the highest in the ministry’s history.
“They’re … upgrading their defense capabilities and it’s important to recognize that with them and all the different things they’re going to be doing,” Hagel told reporters during a briefing Wednesday evening after leaving Washington on the eight-hour red-eye flight to Warsaw.
“They have options to go in other directions as far as their own decisions on what kind of investment they’re going to make in future capabilities,” he said.
Warsaw is eying new air defenses, unmanned aircraft, helicopters and possibly fighter aircraft, according to US officials.
“Poland is a country that has really maintained a strong defense … [and] is spending a lot of time thinking in terms of resources on their defense modernization and that’s something we’re very much interested in and want to help them with,” a senior defense official said.
The Polish Air Force flies Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters and is said to be considering expanding its fleet of 48 aircraft, according to US defense officials. US fighters rotate through an air detachment in Poland. Hagel is scheduled to visit the Bovich Air Base, west of Warsaw, where the US has the aviation detachment.
“They have a full and pretty impressive suite of items that they’re looking at,” the senior defense official said.
US officials said Poland is also considering new unmanned aircraft, including the General Atomics Reaper and other American-made systems, US officials said.
“They have a whole range of different [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] requirements that they’re trying to meet and they’re looking at lots of different [unmanned] platforms,” a second senior defense official said.
Poland is part of a planned European missile defense system, called the Phased Adaptive Approach, which US officials say is to defend against potential long-range missile attacks by Iran. Missile interceptors are scheduled for installation in Poland in 2018 as part of the multinational effort.
The missile defense effort has progressed despite objections from Russia, which views the system as a threat.
“Poland has been very clear to us that they are very committed to missile defense,” the first senior official said. “They see it as an important NATO project.”
Hagel is scheduled to attend a major security conference in Munich, Germany, on Saturday before returning to the US. He will conduct bilateral meetings with defense officials from Germany, Israel, Georgia, India and the UK.
Marcus Weisgerber is traveling with Hagel. Follow him on Twitter @marcusreports.