Poland to deploy F-16 combat planes to Syria in reconnaissance role

Feb 15 2016 - 3 Comments
By Jacek Siminski

Recce role for the Polish F-16 Fighters in the fight against ISIS in Syria.

According to the Polish President and the Polish Minister of Defense, Poland is going deploy a “small number of F-16 fighters” to Syria, in order to “support the observation missions in the region,” local media outlets confirmed on Feb. 15.

Antoni Macierewicz, Polish Defense Minister had already made a statement suggesting that Poland could get involved in the operations against ISIS last Wednesday but President Duda said that “some statements may have been misinterpreted,” since no similar plans have been made and potential Syrian deployment still remains an open issue to be discussed with the NATO allies.

Anyway, some details must have been sorted out and the Polish Vipers may soon operate in the Middle East in a “reconnaissance” (or armed overwatch) role. It’s still unclear where the aircraft will be based.

When it comes to the reconnaissance equipment used by the Polish Fighting Falcons, the F-16 jets of the Polish Air Force use the Goodrich DB110 recce pod, allowing the carrier platform to carry out the reconnaissance task using a stand-off method, staying away from the airspace that could be potentially infested with the enemy SAMs. At least from some of the medium and short-range anti-aircraft fire.

Some rumors suggest that the jets have been using the DB110 operationally already, flying close to the Kaliningrad exclave border, at a request of the Polish Military Intelligence Agency. Anyway, if the DB110 system is going to be employed then Łask AB F-16s are scheduled to make their trip to the Middle East, since Łask is the only base that has these pods in its inventory.

The deployment of the Polish jets to Syrian region may answer a lot of questions pertaining their combat readiness.

The Polish F-16s are capable of using the AIDEWS (Advanced Integrated Defensive Electronic Warfare Suite) for EW and self-defense. The Exelis company, who manufactures the system, approved it for being operated by the foreign users. In case of the Polish F-16 jets, the suite is embedded within the airframe, so there is no need to use additional pods. Polish Falcon uses the AN/ALQ-211(V)4 version of the system, embedded in a part of the jet placed on its “spine.” The suite features a digital Radar Warning Receiver and allows the pilot to implement high and low band jamming, enhanced in air-to-air sorties.

According to Dziennik Zbrojny, one of the leading Polish defense outlets, quoting an interview with the Polish Deputy Minister of Defence Bartosz Kownacki published at the end of December in Wprost weekly, the Ministry doubts whether the F-16 jets will maintain the combat ready status. The doubts are tied directly to the AIDEWS system.

Kownacki stated that “It does not matter that we are in possession of fighters, as they may be quickly neutralized since they do not have self-defense suites.” Similar doubts were expressed by us in an analogous context, when we questioned the combat readiness of the Polish F-16’s last year.

However, since the Polish F-16s have started using the AIDEWS suite, the concerns seem to be mostly unfounded.

As noted above, the Exelis company authorized the AIDEWS suite to be used by foreign customers, however there was a significant delay in the procurement process, since the system was supposedly acquired in May 2013.

The pilots avoided the question, stating that the EW system never takes its final shape and it is being continuously developed, forcing the aircraft to operate with a less capable release of the suite (that is more advanced than the system used by other NATO users of the Fighting Falcon, according to some reports) until its final version (software-wise) is implemented.

Thus, the combat capability of the Polish F-16s is primarily a matter of upgrading the current software.

There are also some rumors suggesting that Poland has no air-to-ground ordnance for the F-16 jets at its disposal and speculations have been fueled by the fact that jets have never been presented with the combat armament at airshows (only inert Paveway bombs were presented publicly during the open days at the airbases even though, during the Red Flag exercise, the Polish F-16s dropped JDAMs over the Alaskan firing ranges).

At the end of October 2015, the Polish Air Force F-16s took part in Blue Flag Exercise at Ovda airbase, near Eilat, in southern Israel, along with combat planes from U.S., Greece and Israel.

Image credit: IAF