With the start of the offensive, the various cargo planes could no longer land directly in Ukraine. Poland has therefore made one of its airports available. This airport offers several key advantages for the continuation of military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The security of this airport has also been greatly increased in the face of various threats from Russia.
A ballet of cargo planes to Kiev
Well before the conflict began, many countries transferred weapons to Ukraine. These transports were overwhelmingly carried out by tactical, strategic military transport aircraft, or even civilian cargo planes. However, since February 24, Ukrainian airspace has been completely closed: no flights or landings are possible. This is also the case for takeoffs: aircraft still stationed in Ukraine and which did not have the opportunity to take off with the hostilities, cannot take to the air again, as demonstrated by the two Turkish A400M transport aircraft still present in Kiev (more details in this article). This closure therefore implies a redirection of airlifted aid to an airport near Ukraine.
The city of Rzeszow... and its airport
The city of Rzeszow is located in Poland, in the Podkarpackie region. From a geostrategic point of view, the city offers several advantages:
- It is both located close to the Ukrainian border (80 km), but far from the Russian positions in Belarus.
- An important international motorway axis passes to the north of the city: the E40/A4 freeway connecting Katowice (Silesia, Poland) to Lviv (Lviv, Ukraine), the latter city being only 150 km from Rzeszow.
- Finally, the city has an airport located just above the E40/A4: it is an international airport with a small runway 975 m long for 13 m wide but also and above all, a main runway measuring 3,200 m long for 45 meters wide. However, the airport does not include a cargo facility and the passenger terminal is very small: the airport is not designed to accommodate a high number of aircraft.
An airport that has become strategic...
The airport's capacity limits still allow it to accommodate 3 tactical transport aircraft simultaneously. An air bridge is therefore quickly established: due to the lack of space for large military aircraft, rotations are spread out according to the size and demand of the Air Force.
This "small" airport is not limited to tactical aircraft, since last April 20 in the early evening, it was possible to see a U.S. C-5 Galaxy strategic airlifter landing at Rzeszow. It took off from the United States with a technical stop in Canada. It is the largest carrier in service with the USAF: it alone can carry 129 tons of various equipment, including helicopters or battle tanks.
A little over an hour later, the Belgian A400M took off again. This one was on a humanitarian flight as it was transporting 70 young Ukrainians from Boutcha to Belgium. The picture below also shows another rare flight: the Spanish A310 was present at the airport to transport the Spanish Prime Minister from Spain. The latter then continued his journey to Kiev by land to meet with Ukrainian President Zelensky.
... and pretty well defended!
Once the planes are down, the equipment is unloaded onto Ukrainian trucks which then transport their precious cargo directly to the conflict zones (military equipment) or to areas in need (humanitarian aid). However, this airport has also become a potential target for Russian sabotage and security has been drastically increased. A Polish and American detachment is on site to help with the unloading of planes but also to secure the area. Moreover, the base also serves as a logistical hub for the contingent of the 82nd US Airborne Division, positioned 45 km northwest of this airport (Milec airport).
This security quickly became insufficient when Russian President Putin openly threatened to launch cruise missiles at the logistics centers of aid allocated to Ukraine. Thus, in early March, the Americans decided to deploy two long-range MIM-104 Patriot anti-aircraft batteries. These two batteries allow the establishment of a long-range air and missile defense. According to several U.S. media outlets, the airport is also protected by other "military equipment strategically positioned on the surrounding hills." Finally, Poland has consolidated air cover: the constant sweep of tankers over Poland clearly indicates that German Eurofighter, American F-15, French Rafale,... fighters patrol the Polish skies alongside Polish Air Force aircraft.
Découvrez cet article sur Air&Cosmos