By Tom Squitieri, Talk Media News
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Mark Esper met with Romania’s defense minister Thursday, hailing a growing military alliance and touting the first Balkan nation to receive the U.S Patriot surface-to-air missile system.
“I want to thank Romania for hosting regular training exercises that improve the interoperability of our forces and strengthen deterrence against Russia along NATO’s eastern flank,” Esper said during opening remarks of his meeting with Romanian Minister of Defense Nicolae Ciuca.
He said the two nations will soon sign a 10-year “Roadmap for Defense Cooperation” agreement, much like Esper signed with the Bulgarian defense minister on Tuesday.
The Air Force hopes to spend $130.5 million to renovate Campia Turzii Air Base in Romania, a former Russian base, for U.S. and NATO use. It would be the biggest overseas military construction project under the Pentagon’s European Deterrence Initiative, which was initiated in June 2014, shortly after Russia annexed Crimea.
“Campia Turzii Air Base is one of the primary sources for United States European Command and its Service Components’ ability to respond to an evolving European security environment,” the Air Force said in its 2021 budget request.
Last year, the Pentagon sent MQ-9 Reaper drones to the base on a temporary rotation. That placed them closer to the Black Sea, where Russian military activity continues to fester, than their usual base in Poland..
Ciuca touted Romania being the first NATO eastern flank country to receive delivery of a Patriot Missile system and said how Bucharest and Washington are “are unlocking the potential of the Black Sea” – a key area of Russian adventurism.
“The United States is our strongest ally,” Circa said. “Romania’s recent National Defense Strategy 2020-2024highlights both the importance and the priority of working together in securing U.S. strategic flexibility in the Black Sea.”
“Just a few weeks ago, we marked the delivery of the first Patriot system to Romania,” he said. “We are now the first ally on the eastern flank to field such a modern U.S. ground-based air and missile defense system.”
Romania’s armed forces received their first shipment of U.S. Patriot surface-to-air missiles on September 17, part of efforts to upgrade the country’s military capabilities.
The missiles and recent purchases of F-16 fighter jets are part of Romania’s pledge to gradually increase military spending to 2% of GDP by 2024, the minimum level demanded of NATO members.
Since 2016, Romania has hosted a U.S. ballistic missile system at the Deveselu military base. The Pentagon began to increase support and investments in Bulgaria and Romania in 2019 as part of NATO’s effort to improve its capacities on the southeast front of the Balkans. The 2019 budget had almost $27 million for investment in the two nations.
It also set the groundwork for continual rotational troops deployments to Romania and Bulgaria and training with the national forces a Camp Mihail Kogalniceanu in Romania and Novo Selo Training Area in Bulgaria.
There is also interest in the capabilities of the Bucegi Mountains in Romania, which some consider a secure facility for storing new and OFO-related technology, some Pentagon officials said.
(Photo: Airmen assigned to the 301st Fighter Wing, Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas, prepare to launch F-16C Fighting Falcons at Campia Turzii, Romania, in May 2019. The Air Force has requested more than $130 million for renovations at the base, which could become a NATO hub in the Black Sea region Photo by Andrew Layton, U.S. Air Force)