Poland Making Steps Towards Procuring 32 F-35 Fifth Generation Jets?

On Sept. 23, 2016, senior Japanese and U.S. government officials joined Lockheed Martin to celebrate the roll out of the first Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) F-35A Lightning II, marking a major milestone in Japan’s enhanced national defense and strengthening the future of the U.S-Japan security alliance. Lockheed Martin photo by Beth Steel

The statements made by the Head of the Polish MoD suggest that Poland would be making steps towards acquiring 32 fifth generation fighter aircraft.

During a press conference held today and reported broadly by the Polish media, the head of the Polish MoD, Mariusz Błaszczak, placed a major emphasis on acquisition of the new fighter aircraft for the Polish Air Force. The main argument used by the Polish official, when justifying the procurement, was the number of incidents and reduced reliability of the post-soviet inventory of the Polish military aviation (MiG-29 and Su-22 aircraft types). The conference concerned the introduction of a new Technichal Modernization Plan, that would cover the period between 2017 and 2026. The document outlines the modernization effort that is to be undertaken by the MoD over the term in question.

Błaszczak suggested that, within the framework of the newly adopted technical modernization plan, Harpia program is a priority. The Polish official emphasized the role that 5th generation airframes play in the structure of the modern military – they act as a force multiplier. And this has been the role assigned to them by Błaszczak during his speech – the new jets are to complement the F-16s. Given that the only 5-generation aircraft available on the market now is the F-35, the Polish official has been probably referring to the Lockheed Martin’s latest platform.

Overall, the value of the new Technical Modernization Plan issued by the MoD is contained in an amount of PLN 185 billion (49B USD), which means that the amount is 45 billion zlotys (12B USD) higher than in case of the preceding document.

Other air-domain programs pursued and defined by the Polish MoD include the following: Kruk program (English: Raven; procurement of attack helicopters for the land forces, in order to replace the aging Mi-24 Hinds); Gryf (English: Griffin; Medium endurance UAVs); Ważka (English: Dragonfly; micro-UAVs for urban reconnaissance); Płomykówka (English: Barn Owl; IMINT/RADINT/SIGINT aircraft).

Among the abovementioned air-domain programs, Kruk and Harpia have been listed among the priorities of the Polish MoD. The remaining elements of the Technical Modernization plan include: Narew (named after one of the Polish rivers; SHORAD system procurement); Cyber.mil.pl (modern cyber capabilities program, aimed at reinforcing the said domain in the Polish military); Wisła (named after the longest Polish river, Vistula; medium range air defense system procurement); Miecznik (English: Swordfish; coastal defense vessel program); Orka (English: Orca; new submarine procurement program); Regina (self propelled howitzers acquisition; the platform uses the name Krab – English: Crab); Rak (English: crayfish; 120 mm self-propelled mortars acquisition); Homar (English: Lobster; rocket artillery program); Pustelnik (English Loner; light infantry ATGM acquisition); Borsuk (Badger; IFV development); and Mustang (high mobility vehicle acquisition).

Notably, and which is quite worrying, the newly adopted modernization plan does not include any rotary-winged aircraft. The Perkoz (English: crested grebe) program that was aimed at acquiring the Mi-2 Hoplite successor has been postponed beyond the year 2026, and also no information has been released with regards to other medium helicopter acquisitions. It seems, at the same time, that the Mi-2 that had its 50th anniversary of service in the Polish military last year, will be operated for at least 6 decades, Defence24.pl’s Juliusz Sabak suggests.

The Polish military acquired a couple of Black Hawks within the framework of the US FMS (Foreign Military Sale) procedure for the special operations component and also, Leonardo had its AW101 platform pay a visit to the Polish Navy Aviation Brigade, for evaluation purposes. Apart from the above, no other moves have been made with regards to the rotary-winged platforms acquisition.

Michał Piekarski, PhD (University of Wrocław), who is one of the reputable Polish experts dealing with the matters of national security, told us the following:

From Polish national security perspective decision to purchase fifth generation fighter aircraft can be perceived as a positive one, given the obsoleteness of Fitters and Fulcrums. Poland as a medium-sized European country should certainly focus on quality not quantity, especially considering the mounting tensions in Eastern Europe. The new fighters should give the PAF a broad set of new capabilities. When it comes to helicopters however, there are problems. The cancelled deal with Airbus, concerning the acquisition of 50 Caracal airframes, still casts a shadow on the Polish Army. It is difficult to assess as to why a decision has been made to focus on attack helicopters, while there are urugent problems in naval aviation, airmobile forces and other elements. While anti-tank capabilities may be balanced by other weapons (artillery or land-based guided missiles), it’s impossible to provide proper capabilities in any other way, when it comes to rotary-winged SAR, ASW and transport platforms. Besides their war-time role, they do also have multiple tasks during the peacetime, like SAR operations and supporting rescue services during natural disasters and other emergencies. It is also difficult to understand such rapid change in asessment of needs, with the priority shifted from multi-role platforms to the attack ones.

The Navy suffers the most here, as Polish SAR AOR in the Baltic Sea is supervised by its assets and currently the service operates light W-3 family helicopters (that do not offer performance adequate to provide SAR capabilities in any weather conditions) and aging Mi-14 platforms. Another burning matter is the ASW capability that the Navy has – it is now limited to 4 Mi-14PŁ platforms and SH-2G helicopters. The latter ones are going to be withdrawn very soon, as the manufacturer no longer provides support for this aircraft, ironically, same applies to the Mi-14PŁ, however – for reasons that are, obviously, diplomatic. Hence, lack of decisions within that scope would mean that neither would the Navy have ship-borne, nor land based rotary-winged aircraft at its disposal.

The journalists working in this domain also express their doubts and concerns. Gazeta.pl Maciej Kucharczyk who has been working on reporting the modernization of the Polish military for quite some time now said:

The F-35 is a superb choice, offering a major boost of the Air Force’s potential. The jet is expensive, but replacement of the obsolete equipment is critical. No clarification has been given, as to the reasoning behind the priority shift. Procurement of this platform and considering it shall be perceived as optimistic. However, funds are not unlimited, hence it is highly probable that the second phase of the Wisła program would be postponed or cancelled, to support the acquisition of the Lightning II jets. It is symptomatic how little attention has been given to the Wisła program during the minister’s speach, which suggests that it is the Wisła progam that could suffer from cuts, required to acquire the F-35. One needs to note, considering the information policy of the Polish MoD, that this does not necessarily mean that the plans would become tangible. This is another priority shift we’ve been witnessing over some period of time, and the information policy pursued by the Ministry is not realy transparent, to say the least. Thus the news above need to be treated with a stance that should be quite reserved.

Whatever the future will bring, the plans made by the Polish MoD are quite uncertain. As Kucharczyk noted, only a distanced and reserved attitude shall be assumed when looking at the statements made by the officials.


About Jacek Siminski
Standing contributor for TheAviationist. Aviation photojournalist. Co-Founder of DefensePhoto.com. Expert in linguistics, Cold War discourse, Cold War history and policy and media communications.