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Fighter Aircraft Modernization

With Poland embarked on wide-scale modernization of its armed forces through the 2020s, the countrys air force is considering what to do with its Russian-built Sukhoi Su-22s and Mikoyan MiG-29s. One option to replace the Su-22s was the purchase of the light attack version of the Leonardo-Finmeccanica M346 trainer. High-end fighters such as the F-35 and Typhoon might also be considered. A selection could be made in 2022.

Flight Global reported 05 December 2018 that Poland planned to accelerate the replacement program of the air forces Soviet-era MiG-29 fighters and Sukhoi Su-22 ground-attack aircraft. The replacement program is part of the countrys Harpia requirement to induct new fighter aircraft from 2024 onwards. The harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) is a neotropical species of eagle. A truly massive raptor. The head greyish with a dark, divided crest; it is also called the American harpy eagle. Warsaw is reportedly looking for an aircraft that can perform a number of combat roles, including certain maritime operations and electronic warfare missions. Flight Global notes that Boeing may offer the F-15 or F/A-18E/F; Leonardo, acting on behalf of the Eurofighter consortium, will offer the Typhoon; Lockheed Martin could pitch the F-16 or F-35, and Saab could promote its Gripen E. The Polish government intends to complete the analytical and conceptual phase of the Harpia program by the end of February 2019, paving the way for starting the procurement process.

A series of incidents and air accidents, including one catastrophe, MiG-29 fighter aircraft have recently occurred in Poland. At the beginning of March 2019 this type of fighter crashed in Mazovia. The pilot catapulted and survived. On 15 February 2019 a MiG-29 from the base in Malbork emerged in emergency due to depressurisation of the cabin during the flight. On the night of July 6, 2018, an aircraft from the same base crashed near Paslek. The pilot catapulted but did not survive. On December 18, 2017, a MiG-29 crashed near Kaluszyn in Mazovia, approaching landing at the base in Minsk Mazowiecki; the pilot survived, although he did not catapult. In 2016, a fire of this type of machine occurred at the 22nd Tactical Air Base in Malbork, caused by a fault during the technical start-up. The plane was not repairable.

F-35 for Poland

The US Department of State on behalf of the administration of President Donald Trump agreed to the possible sale of 32 F-35 multirole combat aircraft to Poland - the Pentagon's Defense Cooperation Cooperation Security Agency (DSCA) announced 11 September 2019. DSCA (Defense Security Cooperation Agency) is responsible for overseeing the sale of cutting-edge US weapons abroad.

The head of the Ministry of National Defense Mariusz Blaszczak stated the most important contract in the history of the Polish Armed Forces is getting closer. "This is another important step in Polish-American relations. Together we are stronger!" - said the US ambassador to Poland, Georgette Mosbacher, on Twitter, referring to the sale of 32 F-35 aircraft to Poland.

The value of the proposed transaction is estimated at USD 6.5 billion, and the transaction itself includes technical and logistical assistance, auxiliary equipment and pilot training. The main supplier of F-35 fighters - if the transaction is completed - will be the American defense company Lockheed Martin, and the subcontractor the manufacturer of engines for fighters F-35A concern Pratt and Whitney. A representative of the State Department, who during the contacts with the media reserved anonymity, stressed that the potential sale to Poland, a "key ally in NATO" of modern F-35A Lightning II combat aircraft will increase its defense potential and the ability to cooperate with NATO allies and - as he said - "will reduce Poland's dependence" on possessed, post-Soviet and outdated equipment.

Poland intends to buy 32 F-35 aircraft in the A version, i.e. the basic one (there is also a B version adapted for vertical take-off and landing, and the C version for aircraft carriers). According to a statement from the State Department, the order also includes 33 F-135 engines that drive F-35 aircraft. The package also includes electronic combat systems, command, logistic support, mission simulator, as well as spare parts, personnel training and documentation. According to the statement "there are no known proposals for offset agreements related to this potential sale", although the buyer, i.e. the Polish government, "usually requires offset". "Any offset agreements will be specified in negotiations between the buyer and contractors," the statement said.

The final value of the contract usually fluctuates around half the price, which is given in the State Department's announcements about permission to sell a given type of armaments abroad. When Poland bought the Patriot air defense system in 2018, the maximum price stated in the announcement was USD 10.5 billion, and the final contract value - USD 4.75 billion. In turn, when this year the Polish Ministry of National Defense bought the HIMARS missile artillery system in the USA, it was initially referred to as USD 655 million, and ended up at USD 414 million. Much can be said about how much Poland can pay for 32 F-35 aircraft, a contract negotiated by Belgium, which wants to have 34 machines. Here, the State Department also announced a price of USD 6.53 billion, and after negotiations it ended at USD 4 billion.

Poland was identified by Lockheed Martin officials as one of the possible F-35 buyers in presentations to the industry in 2007. Also in a document produced for the Dutch Parliament (Basis Document, 2001) a possible requirement of an unknown number of Polish planes to replace the MiG-21 and MiG-29 had been mentioned. At that time Poland indicated that it wanted to join the EMD (SDD) phase of the JSF, but in 2001 it was not clear at which level. Later it became clear financially it was not feasible and Poland made a choice to buy new F-16Cs and F-16Ds.

Poland scrapped previous plans to buy more F-16 fighter jets in five years, but what it will buy instead remained uncertain. The Defense Ministry wanted to wait and buy 64 fifth generation jets, which would could be F-35 joint strike fighters. Deliveries of the fifth-generation fighters are expected to begin in 2022, with two aircraft supplied to the Air Force. The new aircraft will be delivered between 2022 and 2030.

The F-35A has a high pricetag, so the purchase of the Joint Strike Fighter seemed quite unlikely. The Lightning II is very expensive, and would seriously hamper the rest of the Polish Armed Forces modernization plan, which includes new helicopters, submarines, new air defenses and anti-missile shield. Austerity measures could force the ministry to buy secondhand aircraft from a European ally instead, such as older-model Eurofighter Typhoons. A third option could be an order of new Tranche 3B Typhoons. The replacement of the MiG-29 cannot be suspended any longer, and the F-35 is not an option by several reasons (not available in time, affordability). After the purchase of 50 more F-16s Poland will not have a fighter requirement until the late 2030s.

Due to the fact that there was an urgent need to replace the Polish MiG-29 and Su-22 fighters, in 2015 Lockheed Martin started a marketing campaign in Poland, related to the F-35 fighter. The manufacturer stresses the fact that the F-35 is the sole 5-generation fighter which is being currently mass-produced, and that its combat capabilities are unique, in comparison with its competition. According to the concept presented during the MSPO 2015 event by Steve Over, Lockheed Martins director responsible for the international business development of the F-35 programme, the combat capabilities of the 5th generation jets cannot be compared to the previous generation fighters, such as the F-16.

As it is being stressed by Lockheed Martin, the F-35 program was very advanced. So far the cost is contained in an amount of USD 600 billion. In 2016 more than 200 jets of this type are going to be used. Until 2020, up to 650 examples are going to be operational, more than 100 are going to be received by the foreign users. The price of the jet is being reduced, as the production progresses. Lockheed Martin offers the F-35A jets for Poland, and offset is not being excluded similarly as in case of the F-16 jets should the Lightning II fighters be selected by Poland. At the same time, the manufacturer declares that the jets sold abroad are not going to differ from those used by the USAF.

The purchase of fighters of the fifth generation of the Ministry of National Defense announced in 2017, presenting the results of the Strategic Defense Review; this objective was included in the modernization plan of the Harpia program.

Polands Deputy Minister of National Defence Bartosz Kownacki had said as recently as January 2017 that they were considering purchasing 50 to 100 used F-16. But Kownacki told a parliamentary committee examining the modernisation of the countrys armed forces on 22 March. We are not going to buy used older versions of the F-16... The analysis of purchasing of F-16A/B aircraft were carried out by the Ministry of National Defence, the general staff of the Polish armed forces and the armament inspectorate, and after that, it was clear that this was not the right direction.... The cost of upgrading second-hand aircraft would be high, and their capabilities would be small. "We are considering various possibilities that would be beneficial, be it F-16 aircraft used, or new or any other solutions. This is the subject of very in-depth analyzes today and in a short time it may not be possible to say what we will decide, but - in which directions we will certainly not go" - announced the deputy minister.

The purchase of the F-35 is - according to the deputy minister - either too late or too early. - It was worth talking about them five years ago, when we would be co-participants of the project and - even in a modest dimension, but - they were in the global supply chain, then it would be an interesting proposition. Today we would simply be a regular customer and this is doubtful all the more so because recently we bought the F-16 - Kownacki explained. On the other hand, according to the deputy minister, in a dozen or so years the availability of F-35 will increase and their price will drop.

In November 2018, the head of the Ministry of National Defense, Mariusz Blaszczak, instructed the head of the General Staff of the Polish Army to accelerate the implementation of the Harpy program, purchase of a new generation fighter aircraft. The Ministry of Defense announced that the future fighter aircraft would "operate in an anti-access and network-centric environment and would cooperate with a component of allied air forces".

Minister of Defense Mariusz Blaszczak announced 28 February 2019 a serious revolution in the plans of the Ministry of National Defense for the future. The Ministry wants to buy 32 fifth generation fighters - F-35 quickly. In return, he never mentioned the previous priority, which is the expensive purchase of the Patriot system. With a two-year delay, he signed the Technical Modernization Plan.

What was said in general at the press conference heralded significant changes in the plans of the Ministry of National Defense. Most importantly, Minister Blaszczak repeatedly emphasized that the Harpia program, ie the plan for the purchase of new multi-task aircraft, received particular priority. He specified that it is about the fifth generation machines. That is, the American F-35 Lightning II, because Poland can not buy other fifth generation Airplanes from Russia or China.

The F-35s are to replace the post-Soviet MiG-29 and Su-22, which were planned to operate for many years, but it turns out to be troublesome. The problem is in particular lack of access to spare parts and experience of Russian producers. Blaszczak did not give any deadlines, so it is not known how many years Polish pilots will have to fly on increasingly dangerous machines.

The proposal for the purchase of fifth generation American F-35 fighters on behalf of the Polish authorities was made in May 2019 by the Minister of National Defense Mariusz Blaszczak. At the end of May, Mariusz Blaszczak announced that the ministry had sent an offer inquiry regarding the purchase of 32 fifth-generation F-35A aircraft. "Fifth generation fighters are already on the horizon. Today we have sent a request for proposal (LOR) to our American partners regarding the purchase of 32 F35A aircraft together with a logistics and training package. It is high time to replace the post-Soviet equipment with the most modern fighters". Also in May, the ministry informed MPs that the Ministry of National Defense plans to buy the first squadron - 16 aircraft - F-35 in this planning perspective, by 2026. A second squadron will be bought after 2026. The Polish offer was discussed in June 2019 during a meeting of Polish and US presidents, Andrzej Duda and Donald Trump, at the White House.

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Page last modified: 28-01-2020 17:38:24 ZULU