"Poland has decided to accept the U.S. proposal of hosting rotations of F-16 and Hercules aircraft and their crews" on its territory, Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Kilch told his country's TOK FM commercial radio station. "I hope this will begin in 2013."
The minister said the U.S. combat aircraft would be joining Polish air forces in joint drills. They will be returning to the United States following the maneuvers but there are expected to be additional bilateral exercises.
According to Kilch, the presence of the U.S. military planes in Poland will be similar to the stationing of the U.S. Patriot missiles that were placed on Polish territory this year. Dozens of American soldiers and a battery of Patriot missiles arrived in the country as the Polish military moved to be trained how to operate the advanced guidance system.
The mission amounts to the most significant deployment of U.S. forces to Poland, which once was once a Cold War ally of Russia but is now an enthusiastic member of NATO.
The Patriot garrison was a Polish condition for a 2008 deal with Washington to host a long-range missile defense base meant to protect the United States and Europe from feared Iranian attacks. That plan was developed and negotiated by the previous U.S. administration and it angered Russia. It has since been reconfigured by U.S. President Barack Obama.
Last March, a U.S. Air Force official at the Pentagon had suggested the United States and NATO would be best served by moving F-16s station at Italy's Aviano Air Base to Poland.
Kilch said Poland and three Baltic states in 2013 would host an exercise of the NATO Response Force, a multinational contingent of 25,000 troops available for rapid deployment.
The U.S. military has previously carried out training exercises in Poland and has also trained the Polish air force to operate F-16 military fighter planes, which Poland bought to modernize its military.
Poland, which is traditionally seeking ways to balance its location between Russia and Germany, has moved even closer to the United States with respect to defense cooperation.
Warsaw has also expressed interest in acquiring some of the Patriot missiles in the future. No deal though has been sealed.