Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller did more than welcome a NATO ally last week in his first official event. He helped abolish one of the last vestiges of Soviet military hardware in the Baltics.
Lithuanian Minister of Defense Raimundas Karoblis told the Washington Examiner his trip to Washington was to sign a deal to buy four HC-60 Black Hawk helicopters worth $243 million.
“This is a really important milestone,” he said in an interview at the Lithuanian Embassy. “This is the last legacy of the Soviet era, and this is the replacement of the last platform, the last equipment that we had from these times."
The Russian-made Mi-8 helicopters were recently used in the Tobruq Legacy air defense exercise with the United States and 10 other NATO partners near Siauliai Air Base in Lithuania.
The U.S. maintains a rotational presence of some 500 troops from the U.S. Army’s 1st Cavalry Division in Lithuania. The deterrent against Russia was also on the minister’s mind in his discussion with Miller, the fourth U.S. defense minister he has met.
“The presence of U.S. troops is very important for deterrence messaging to Russia, and it’s a multiplying factor,” he said.
Karoblis said he also told Miller the presence of 5,000 troops in Poland is key to regional security.
“Russian forces [in Kaliningrad and the western region] are much, much bigger than our national armed forces in the Baltic countries, the U.S., and NATO countries,” he said.
Russia ally Belarus, under the government of Alexander Lukashenko, is also on the verge of a decision to allow Russian troops on its soil permanently, Karoblis said. Such a move would position additional Russian soldiers on the eastern flank of NATO.
In welcoming remarks on Friday, Miller said Lithuania was a steadfast ally against “Russia's malign behavior” in the region.
“We are working closely with Lithuania and other allies to strengthen our security cooperation, enhance deterrence of Russia, and bolster Baltic defense,” Miller said. “Lithuania continues to play an active and important role in NATO operations while protecting the alliance’s eastern flank.”
In his first public remarks on the topic of 2% GDP defense spending, Miller praised Lithuania for meeting the NATO target.
Lithuania’s purchase is part of a package that includes the platform, a training package, a training simulator, repair equipment, and a logistics package. Other purchases include Javelin anti-tank missiles and missiles to fit Lithuania’s new Norwegian NASAMS midrange air defense system.
In all, Karoblis said his nation now spends $1 billion on defense annually, with $500 million directed to U.S.-made arms.
“Indeed, Lithuania is a staunch American ally in the region,” Karoblis said in his remarks at the Pentagon.
“It’s not only about the equipment, which is very important for our armed forces, but it's more symbolically, with this project, we will be able to quit with the last legacy of Soviet equipment in our armed forces.”
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