Are the Polish F-16s combat-worthy?

Jan 27 2015 - 43 Comments
By Jacek Siminski

So far, the Polish Air Force has not sent its F-16 on a single combat deployment beyond the Polish borders. Some of the journalists have asked the question – why?

Back in September 2013, as rumors that the backbone of the Polish fighter force was to be deployed to Syria, we explained that one of the main flaws of the “Jastrząb” (Polish name for the F-16) was that the aircraft lacked AIDEWS (Advanced Integrated Defensive Electronic Warfare Suite ) capabilities.

On Sep. 1. 2014, in an interview to defense outlet, General Gocul, the chief of the Polish Armed Forces General Staff, claimed that keeping the Vipers at home is justified both technically, as well as economically.

First of his arguments referred to the known FOD (Foreign Object Damage) sensitivity of the F-16. Gocuł claimed that the fighter’s engine is particularly prone to damage, and that Poles would be forced to expand the BAP (Baltic Air Policing) operation with runway cleaning equipment which may be expensive should the Polish Air Force deploy the F-16s to Lithuania to provide air policing of the Baltic States. In case of the MiG-29 Fulcrums (regularly taking part to BAP rotations), the air intakes are designed so as to prevent the threat of FOD – this is a fact, as the intakes feature a special flap system, which is closed when the aircraft is taxiing. However, it has been shown that this obstacle can be easily removed as Siauliai airbase has been a home for NATO F-16 jets before (for example the Portuguese F-16s).

Polish F-16 NTM 2011

The second argument provided by General Gocuł dealt with the operative costs associated with the F-16:  the MiG-29 is cheaper to operate than the Fighting Falcons hence, deploying the Fulcrums is a way for not burdening the taxpayers. Apparently, cost of one flight hour of the MiG-29, according to various sources (exact data is unknown), is shaped at around 5,500 USD. In case of the F-16 the amount is as much as 7,700 USD.

But again, Gen Gocuł stated in an interview for the January issue of the Polish “Lotnictwo” magazine, that the Polish MiG-29s clocked 300 flying hours during May-August 2014, which is approximately 75 hours per aircraft. This provides a rough estimate of how much the Poles spent on its MiG-29s operational activities. This figure stands at around 1.7 million USD per fleet compared to 2.3 million USD it would cost to utilize the F-16s.

These arguments seem to be vague, as the nature of the Polish AF resistance towards sending the Block 52+ F-16 fighters abroad may stem from different reasons. Another point that has been made by Mad Magazine was that the Polish AF is not willing to expose the combat capabilities possessed by the Vipers to the Russians, by operating the F-16 in close vicinity of the forces of the potential adversary.

However, in the opinion of Konrad Muzyka, working for IHS Jane’s, there may be a third reason. When asked about the Final Operational Capability (FOC) of the F-16, Muzyka provided us with the following statement:

The issue pertaining to the operational capabilities of the Polish F-16s is a curious one. The Ministry of National Defence has never officially confirmed whether the aircraft possess AIDEWS thus raising questions if the F-16s are at FOC. This comes despite the fact that the contract was concluded as far back as in 2008. Naturally, it is in the Warsaw’s interest not to shed any light on the capability of the Polish Vipers, but the fact that they have never been operationally deployed abroad is concerning.

Officially, the Polish Vipers do maintain the combat ready status. They are regularly involved in exercises such as Red Flag or NATO Tiger Meet. Nonetheless, there are some questions to be asked: is it really the cost of operation that stops Poland from deploying the F-16s abroad?

Is Warsaw really concerned that Russian intelligence aircraft, often flying near the Lithuanian airspace, may collect sensitive data about the Polish Vipers?

And final question is – did the Polish F-16 really achieve FOC status, even though they have never been deployed abroad?

Polish AF F-16 taxi


  • marco

    Are the MiG-29 combat ready? I mean… combat, not patrolling a friendly air space in AD role.

    • Jacek Siminski

      I don’t know, but they have been modernized to a large extent – and due to this fact, lack of deployment of the F-16’s is even more concerninng.

      • Marco

        And then trow the Su-22 into the picture. I think there is no room for them in real modern deployment like the one ongoing in Iraq-Syria. This makes me think that Poland is just prepared for a Cold War era scenario using outdated tactics for air war.

        • Jacek Siminski

          Su-22s are soon-to-be withdrawn, so I think your comment is far from reality.

          • Marco

            Well, 2026 is not exactly “soon”. As far as I see that’s the final deadline for Su-22s in Polish service. Are they even close to “useful” in a modern air war? I don’t think so. The same comment is valid for MiG-29s. Do you see MiGs and Sukhois joining an international air campaign, a shooting war?. Frankly… not really.

            • Jacek Siminski

              Su’s – nope. MiG’s – maybe.

        • Jacek Siminski

          Aaand, when it comes to the tactics I beg to differ – the Vipers and the Fulcrums as well are regurarly involved in NATO-driven exercises, such as the Spanish TLP, thus the strategy and tactics are being constantly updated IMHO, in order to fit the current context.

        • Fitzgrimbel von Hotz

          “Poland is just prepared for a Cold War era scenario using outdated tactics for air war.”

          Poland has been thinking a bit differently than your standard European NATO country. They are one of the few if not only countries who are focusing on a strong tank and artillery force.

          They understand that “war” is not just about hopeless decade-long engagements in remote countries chasing low-tech insurgents with over-expensive weaponry.

          War may also mean securing the physical existence of your nation by way of having a sufficient mass and capability of firepower pointed in the right direction at the right time to deter or stop the enemy.

          Historical experience tells Polish strategists that they cannot take the fact that there even IS a Poland for granted. And that they should not trust too much on alliances to guarantee that.

          Since it already exists and works, the SU-22 may still have a role to play in that calculus for the “mass” part – as long as the cost of maintaining and operating it does not exceed its contribution.
          Perhaps they’ll just fly it until the last batch of pilots gets sent off to retirement.

  • :)

    • Cody3/75

      You’re going to have to explain a little more thoroughly than a smiley face and photo…

      • When I try to explain it…sometimes my comment get known as a spam…
        So, everyone who likes to know the truth, he can search for that…(Letter4u: Message of Leader of The Islamic Republic of Iran to the youth in Europe and North America)

        • Jacek Siminski

          And how is it related to the Polish F-16s?

        • Velvet Metal

          How’s that relevant to the article Ayatollah?

        • kusanagi no tsurugi

          Who cares of what your long bearded clown says??

        • Gyoz

          This is obviously off topic.

          With all the respect to the Supreme Leader writings and thoughts that I do not want to discuss. I hope you will finally close that nuclear deal, restore diplomatic relations and give the Iranian youth a better opportunity to be able to talk freely and directly to the European and North American youth.

          Frankly it is a pity that a nation so culturally rich and with such a potential has been in an isolated state for such a long time.

        • Andrew Tubbiolo

          It was a stupid letter. The ayatollah should take his own advise and ask himself the same questions about Islam, he asks the kids of the west to ask about their society. For instance why Islam sat on Algebra for 100’s of years but a little over a century into the enlightenment Europe re-discovered and developed calculus and developed a useful physics with it. He should also ask why no science of note comes from Islamic societies today. And no aviation of any worth except science fiction props. Hats off to Iran for keeping their F-5’s, F-14’s, and F-4’s flying. They’ve mastered established American systems, but they are not masters of aviation. Mr ayatollah should ask himself why this is so. All this little article might do is convince the stupid schmucks from the West who go to fight for ISIS to defect to Iran. Which would be in improvement. How’s that for spam Mr Cyberi?

  • Ivan

    The Russians just love this blog.. free info analysis on their neighbors provided by over curious Western bloggers.

    • Jacek Siminski

      It’s all open source – freely available in the media – nothing incredible

      • Ivan

        The information is, not the analysis. What are you hoping to gain by wanting to know so badly what the Polish F-16 is armed with, status, etc?

        • Jacek Siminski

          Asking questions is never a bad thing.

    • Mads Gellert Madsen

      It’s a thing we in the west. It’s called “an open society”. We won the Cold War this way, remember?

  • InvaderNat

    Personally I think Russian aircraft are better for eastern European nations. Poland would be better served with MiG-35s than new-block F-16s. Better aircraft, cheaper price.

    • Marco

      Not really. I cannot recall a single real war where MiGs were successful over enemy territory with a decent air defense.

      • kusanagi no tsurugi

        Is your brain offline? Remind us how many wars soviet-built planes have fought against strong IADS….zero, so you don’t have the numbers or the facts to state that these planes are unsuccessful in an high intensity war scenario…

        • Gyoz

          Both Korea and Vietnam wars proved that those Russian made planes planes had the potential to shoot down US pilots.

          The Middle East wars were charaterized by poorly trained Arab pilots with outdated tactics no match for highly trained Israeli pilots and that is a different story.

      • Andrew Tubbiolo

        Scratch a few Russians on this subject. …. I’ll boil it down for you. Russians sell combat aircraft to nations with poor piloting skills. Western nations sell aircraft to nations of inferior, or evil people who amazingly just happen to be good combat pilots.

        I’m not kidding. They won’t say this strait out. But if you boil down their arguments and excuses for their combat record. That what they claim.

    • Andrew Tubbiolo

      I’m ready to believe the Mig-35 is a better aircraft. I’m not ready to believe the Russians would sell spares in times such as these. Poland is a focus of building the European anti Russian coalition. I doubt Russia would be under the harsh economic conditions it is now were it not for the efforts of the Poles to help create what unity there is in the West against Russia. As such I would not be surprised to see Russia cut off spares to the Germans and Poles in an attempt to put an end to their Mig-29 programs. If for any reason pure revenge.

      • Mads Gellert Madsen

        A lot of the MIG-spares actually come from Ukraine, fx. Croatian MIG-21s got an overhaul there, so it might be a nonissue. They got a really big engineplant in Dnepropetrovsk and Ukraines one of the largest armsexporters in the world. This might also be one of the reasons Putin is invading, he don’t want to lose control over the weaponplants.

        • Jacek Siminski

          Not for the 35, which is a new thing

    • Jacek Siminski

      Procurement of MiG-35 is politically impossible.

      • InvaderNat

        True, although I really wish this wasn’t the case. It wasn’t that long ago when mainland Europe and Russia were friendly. Shame Putin had to ruin it by screwing Ukraine over. Although to be fair it’s also NATO’s fault for driving a wedge between Euro-states and Russia with their stupid ‘missile shield project’, this whole NATO vs Russia thing pisses me off and isn’t necessary.

  • Roland Lawrence

    well Poland were originally after the Saab Gripen, then suddenly had a change of heart out of the blue which must have been a surprise to the Swedes. On the flip side, a less able airforce is less able to first strike – this might be a good thing for keeping the peace.

    • Vpanoptes

      Ummm, who would they “first strike”?

      • Jacek Siminski

        Nobody, however, deterrence capabilities are equally important.

  • Scott

    Wait …facts from Mad Magazine ?!

    • Jacek Siminski

      madmagazine. pl

  • It is an interesting question although I fail to see any significant reason why Poland would not make them combat ready if they were not. Poland has spent significant increases in military expenditures over the past decade and possesses well as a friendly and warm relationship with the US. Nor are the polish block 52+ models all that old so it would be pretty bad for them to fall apart less than 10 years after delivery. ( I don’t see either cost or diplomatic relations as a prohibiting step in making the Polish F-16’s combat ready.

    • Jacek Siminski

      It’s not a question of falling apart – it’s a question whether the F-16s got their FOC status in the first place.

  • 05Stang

    I can understand Poland being conservative with the use of their most advanced and costly aircraft.
    I do not believe it’s an indictment of their combat worthiness.

  • C_Low

    I would guess that the Polish holding the F-16 back would be two fold.

    1. Baltic air policing is a air to air find, intercept, play tag. A game the Mig29 probably beats the F-16 in. Especially the heavily bulked up F-16 version the Poles have.

    2. Poland wants to keep its F-16 at home considering its ground attack (something the Poles heavily upgraded version is tailored for) would be critical early on in a Russian flare up

    The F-16 including the version the Poles have are not new or first off the line, they are developed and refined pieces of kit. The odds are low that something as basic to a modern strike fighter as its DEWS would be left off in a nation that is at least a 2nd tier ally if not 1st. We are not talking about Pakistan or some other US allies that are questionable.

  • Nicki

    You rly think thet poland will say yes we used f-16 20times we kiled people in afganistan africa and iraq . And yes we hav rockets whit explosives ?? A part of army is a secret if you will bolive in army statistic from Wikipedia . Then you grate experts .. CHERRS ;D

    • Jacek Siminski

      PolAF was never invoolved in ops in Iraq, Afghan on African theaters.