US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, shakes hands with Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak at the beginning of their meeting in Warsaw on Jan. 30. Hagel visited for two days. (Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)
WARSAW — The US wants to partner with Poland as the Eastern European nation pursues its own missile defense system separate from the American system already planned for the region.
“As Poland explores its options for its own missile defense capabilities, there is an unmistakable opportunity for us to forge even closer cooperation in this area, leveraging cutting-edge technology and enhanced NATO capability,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said during a Jan. 30 briefing at Poland’s Defence Ministry alongside his Polish counterpart, Tomasz Siemoniak.
“This will benefit Poland, the United States and the entire trans-Atlantic alliance,” he said.
The US is already slated to install missile interceptors in Poland by 2018, part of the Phased Adaptive Approach mission. The plan calls for deploying missile interceptors used on Navy Aegis destroyers, according to a program fact sheet. US officials say the system will defend Europe against potential long-range missile attacks by Iran.
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,” a senior US defense official said Jan. 29. “They see it as an important NATO project.”
But Poland is looking for its own missile defense system, as well.
“As Poland explores its own missile defense possibilities and options, we are closely coordinating with the Polish military and the Polish government on working with them technologically, operationally and in every respect,” Hagel said.
Unlike many NATO nations, Poland plans to increase defense spending in 2014 to 32 billion zloty (US $10.4 billion), a 2 percent increase over 2013, making it the highest in the country’s history.
“In an area of fiscal pressures that reside on both sides of the Atlantic, this investment is particularly required to move our alliance further, deeper, closer into the 21st century, ultimately allowing both of our militaries to collaborate much closer on more projects in the future,” Hagel said.
Poland plans to make a host of new equipment purchases beyond a missile defense system, including unmanned aircraft, helicopters and possibly fighter aircraft, according to US officials.
In December, Italian aircraft maker Alenia Aermacchi announced Poland plans to buy eight of its M-346 jet trainers.
“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.
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. ■