A Romanian air force F-16 fighter plane flies above the Baza 86 military air base, outside Fetesti, Romania, Monday, Nov. 13, 2023. NATO member Romania inaugurated an international training hub for F-16 jet pilots from allied countries and other partners, including Ukraine, with airplanes supplied by the Royal Netherlands Air Force, and instructors and maintenance provided by Lockheed Martin, the aircraft maker.
Romania has inaugurated a new F-16 pilot training center serving Ukraine and Bucharest’s NATO allies, with the facility meant to improve “interoperability” and help the bloc face down “complex challenges” in the region. But there are other reasons for the base which NATO isn’t especially eager to publicize, ex-DoD analyst Karen Kwiatkowski says.Romanian Defense Minister Angel Tilvar and his Dutch counterpart Kasia Ollongren presided over the inauguration of the European Fighter Training Center in the southeastern Romanian town of Fetesti on Monday, with the facility set to train both NATO pilots and Ukrainians flying donated Western jets.Five donated Dutch F-16s arrived at the base last week, with thirteen more expected in the coming weeks. The Fetesti base is the product of collaboration between the Romanian Air Force, the Dutch military, Denmark and F-16 manufacturer Lockheed Martin.“We are exploring the most effective ways of integration for the training of Ukrainian pilots,” Tilvar said during Monday’s inauguration ceremony. “The European F-16 Training Center strengthens our international partnerships to counter threats in the region…Our goal is not only to train a significant number of new F-16 pilots but also to obtain new qualifications for those who already operate the F-16,” he added.US Ambassador to Romania Kathleen Kavalec revealed in no uncertain terms that the base’s construction was related directly to NATO’s Russia strategy, saying the Western alliance was “not only bringing F-16 training but also various types of military support” in its response to “Russia’s aggression.”WorldUS Desire to Pay Ukraine’s Way Hits New Low as Israel and Border Issues Take PriorityYesterday, 16:22 GMTThe Fetesti training center’s inauguration comes on the heels of the completion of part of a $100 million US Air Force construction project at Campia Turzii, a military base about 300 km northwest of Bucharest, in September. That project created new squadron operations facilities, a massive 14,000-square-foot hangar, and a new parking apron, with the facilities slated to become a “nerve center” for planning and directing missions from the base, according to the US Army Corps of Engineers.
“These projects help ensure the base can support operations of US and NATO aircraft and crews,” the Corps said.
The Pentagon has separately committed $220 million more in funding for base construction and upgrades elsewhere in Romania, including at the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in southeastern Romania near the country’s Black Sea coast, and a training base near the town of Cincu, central Romania.The United States has at least 4,000 troops from the 101st Airborne Division at the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, and regularly deploys Air Force fighter jets to the country for air policing missions.
The Pentagon also operates an Aegis Ashore missile defense system at the Deveselu Military Base in the Romania’s southwest. Moscow has repeatedly expressed the concern that the facility’s MK-41 vertical launch system could easily be calibrated to fire nuclear tipped long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets deep inside Russia.
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The US military’s entrenchment in Romania is no coincidence, and represents “the long-term trend of adding Eastern European countries to NATO for purposes of more wide-open and less environmentally and legislatively restricted air space and testing grounds,” says retired US Air Force Lieutenant-Colonel and former Pentagon analyst Karen Kwiatkowski.“As Western Europe has increasingly restricted both air and ground NATO training, due to political, population and environmental concerns, NATO and the US have sought to use the newer NATO countries, which are poorer, less populated, and have a less robust regulatory structure relating to noise, air and chemical pollution, as a place to train and operation,” Kwiatkowski told Sputnik.On top of that, the observer said, the new facilities provide the Western bloc with the added “benefit” of being able to train “right up against Russian territory.”The Fetesti Fighter Training Center will help NATO “focus on what is left of Ukraine, and also most of the Black Sea, as an outpost and major NATO operational and training region into the future,” Kwiatkowski stressed, while warning that the decision to place training Ukrainian pilots so close to Russia for training will undoubtedly threaten to cause an “unnecessary confrontation over Ukraine or the Black Sea.”MilitaryNATO Admits Lack of Production Capacity to Meet Ukraine’s Requests9 November, 18:22 GMT
What Does Romania Get?
The training center certainly won’t improve Bucharest’s security situation, and was likely agreed based on financial considerations, including cash now, future loan and investment opportunities, and “political benefits that Romanian politicians and perhaps business leaders feel they gain by allying closely with NATO and the US,” Kwiatkowski believes.Meanwhile, plummeting US interest in the Ukrainian crisis amid the Gaza war and US presidential elections slated for next year where the probability of a Ukraine-unfriendly candidate taking power make “handing off the cleanup” of the proxy crisis in Europe off to European countries “seem logical” for neoconservative policy makers, according to the observer.
As for ordinary Europeans, including Romanians, all they can expect from the new base at Fetesti is more noisy fighter jets flying overhead, more pollution caused by NATO’s expanded military footprint, the risk of training accidents, and the threat of local communities being targeted if tensions with Russia ever escalated into a hot war.
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