Polish Air Force Modernization Initiatives do not foresee 5th Generation Fighters until at least 2022.
The plan to acquire the 5th-generation jets that would prospectively replace the Su-22 Fitter and MiG-29 Fulcrum airframes, currently operated by the Polish Air Force alongside the F-16s, has been postponed by the leadership of the Polish Ministry of Defense.
Lacking the net-centric capabilities, data-links and modern precision guided weaponry Fulcrums and Fitters are becoming more and more unsuited to the conditions of the contemporary battlefield environment.
As Tomasz Dmitruk of the Dziennik Zbrojny outlet speculates, the program in question could become a part of the subsequent planning period, between the years 2017-2026. The said modernization plan is expected to be developed next year.
In one of his interviews given to Dziennik Zbrojny, General Adam Duda, head of the Armament Inspectorate of the Polish MoD, claimed that “Harpia” program, which is to cover the acquisition of new fighters, would be scheduled to begin from 2023.
According to the statement issued by the Polish MoD, responding to a parliamentary question issued by MP Paweł Olszewski, the operational requirements review carried out by the Polish Armed Forces resulted in an assumption that the Su-22’s operations are expected to be maintained, thus, acquisition of the new jets is going to probably begin next year – here we mean the sole initiation of the procurement program as the acquisition itself would be far down the road.
The adopted modernization assumptions, when it comes to the military aircraft, are focused on several priorities, including combat and support helicopters. We do know though, that this tender faces a significant delay, for the reasons related to offset agreement negotiations and, reportedly, difficulties occurring within that process, as the current government reports.
The tender has been canceled and restarted. Polish MoD is also willing to acquire 32 attack helicopters, with logistics and training package.
Second of the priority tasks that is to be implemented by the Ministry is focused on UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and reconnaissance.
Operational MALE UAV systems, mini- and micro-class systems and satellite platforms are going to be acquired.
The Ministry is to procure four operational-level ZEFIR systems, 12 tactical medium range GRYF UAVs (in this case, the systems are to be manufactured by the domestic entities), 12 tactical short range Orlik systems, and 15 mini-class WIZJER aircraft.
However, all of the programs listed above were canceled on Jul. 15, 2016 and they are expected to be restarted with the new government urging the UAV systems in question to be manufactured solely by the companies controlled by the treasury and based domestically.
UAVs are also a subject to financial limitations and Polish Deputy Minister of Defence, Bartosz Kownacki, noted that extra funds would be required to finalize the procurement process.
Same conditions apply to the micro UAVs. One of the significant developments, when it comes to the UAV systems and considering the “treasury” condition mentioned above, may be seen in the fact that one of the major Polish manufacturers of such aircraft, the WB Group, has been excluded from the tendering procedures listed here, due to the fact that it remains a private entity, even though the said company offers systems that have a track-proven record and are highly advanced.
Thirdly, the Air Force is in the process of acquiring a new training platform for the pilots, in order to replace the aging TS-11 Iskra trainers. This is being done through acquisition of an integrated training package founded around the M-346 Master AJT aircraft.
The Ministry of Defense acquired 8 such airframes already, with optional procurement of another 4 examples possible, within the framework of the very same contract. Two jets have been received this year, with the remaining ones expected to be delivered in 2017.
Furthermore, the Ministry also took a course to acquire VIP aircraft for the government officials, with two types of platforms to be procured. Small VIP jets will be delivered next year, while medium aircraft are expected to be supplied throughout the years 2017, 2020 and 2021, one jet each year.
Exact deadlines will be known after the negotiation is finalized with the potential contractors.
Moreover, the MoD is also focused on securing the Armed Forces transport capabilities, especially within the tactical dimension, as well as within the scope of the NATO, EU and UN commitments (humanitarian aid operations, evacuations and deployment of special forces).
However, this has been done already, as 5 CASA C-295M airlifters have been acquired throughout the years 2010-2015, with 16 being operated by the air force, with 8 M-28 [Polish An-28 derivative] Bryza aircraft complementing the fleet.
The new aircraft to be procured will probably be imported, since no relevant potential is available and offered by the Polish industry. However, the Ministry claims that any new acquisition would have to entail a relevant offset agreement.
Considering the official information mentioned above we may assume that no plans exist, among the objectives defined by the Polish MoD, to procure any new fighter aircraft, at least at the moment. With the relevant program to be started next year, we need to wait for further developments. Back in 2014 rumors suggested that the Air Force would receive new fighter aircraft by 2020, hence the current situation shows that long-term forecast, when it comes to armament procurement, may often not turn out to be realistic.
The assets which could be allocated to procure the new fighters are going to be used, instead, in order to acquire relevant systems within the Wisła and Narew air defense programs, which are both expected to be costly, considering their complexity, and urgent, in the light of the current status of the Polish IADS (Integrated Air Defense System).
Among the analysts in Poland, two views of potential Air Force expansion exist.
The first one assumes that a MLU (mid-life upgrade) program will be launched to upgrade the F-16 jets (with AESA radars and integration of new armament including JASSM-ER missiles and possibly new Air-to-Air weaponry) along with the potential procurement of the F-16V to replace the aging Fulcrums and Fitters. Furthermore, Poland is also looking forward to expand its SEAD capabilities and the information available within the defense media-sphere suggests that procurement of the AARGM missiles for the F-16 could also be expected in the near future.
The second hypothesis assumes that new airframes, possibly Gripen-NG or the F-35, would be bought to replace the Polish Post-Soviet fighter force.
Whichever takes place, we need to patiently wait for relevant decisions to be taken.
The “procurement landscape” is quite varied, as back in 2015, when the Eurofighter Typhoon was also being promoted during the Radom Air Show, as a fighter for the Polish Air Force. What is clear though, the priorities assumed by the new right-wing government have been redefined, hence it is very unlikely that we would see any new combat aircraft in the Polish Air Force, within the upcoming decade.
This, on the other hand, would mean that whoever is elected next, would have a perfect pretext not to procure new fighters, for financial reasons.
Poland is going to be left with an air force counting of 48 F-16 jets, at least for now, as the combat usability of the Post-Soviet equipment, on the net-centric and dynamic battlefield, is highly dubious.
Image Credit: Jacek Siminski/Wojciech Mazurkiewicz
During their approach to Dęblin, the “Master” jets, locally named “Bielik” (Polish for white tailed eagle), flew in formation with the TS-11 Iskra trainer aircraft which were sent to welcome the new airframes.
The delivery of the first two of 8 aircraft was preceded with long preparatory stages, as it required the Polish pilots to be trained at Lecce-Galatina airbase, in Italy, home of 212° Gruppo (Squadron) belonging to the 61° Stormo (Wing) of the Italian Air Force, the flight school that operates the T-346s (this is the ItAF designation) in Italy.
The first flight of the Polish jet took place on Jul. 4, 2016, while Lt. Col. Konrad Madej was the first Polish pilot to fly the jet, an Italian airframe, on Mar. 2, 2016.
The Alenia Aermacchi M-346 “Master” is a dual-engine LIFT (Lead-In to Fighter Trainer) jet for the latest stage of a fighter pilot training which aims to develop the information management and aircraft handling skills of future pilots before they are assigned to the OCUs (Operational Conversion Units).
The aircraft has also been selected by Italy, Israel and Singapore.
An interesting composite photo pays homage to the Polish pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain.
Konrad “kifcio” Kifert, member of the Air-Action Association of the Aviation Photographers from Poland paid a great tribute to the Polish WW2 veterans who fought in the Battle of Britain. The shot above, taken at the 23rd Tactical Air Base in Minsk Mazowiecki, symbolizes the heritage which is carried by the 1st Tactical Aviation Squadron, stationed at that base.
Kifert, known for his work related to the MiG-29 Fulcrum, decided to create a photo showing the pilots of the current squadron based at Minsk Mazowiecki, and establish a connection between them and the RAF Squadron 303, by photoshopping the actual photo of the famous squadron between the group of the pilots which is flying in the unit now, and the MiG-29 fighter visible in the background.
The result is awesome and the idea to pay such tribute to the Polish heroes who contributed greatly to the Battle of Britain, is very original and unique.
The unit is the descendant of the traditions of the famous Kosciuszko Squadron. Its name came from a Polish Lithuanian hero, Tadeusz Kościuszko, and it has been ascribed to a number of Polish Air Force units. The interesting fact is that the insignia used by each of the Squadrons, was a tribute paid by Eliott Chess, an American pilot who flew for the Polish Army during the Polish Soviet War. Kosciuszko greatly contributed to the American Revolutionary War, acting as a colonel in the Continental Army. He was also a military architect who took care of the fortifications at the West Point in the US. has been borne by several units of the Polish Air Force throughout its history.
During the World War II, the Kosciuszko Squadron was established within the RAF, and contributed to the win in the Battle of Britain. During the World War II the Squadron flew the Hurricane fighters.
Churchill, after the Battle of Britain, referred to the RAF effort using the following, famous words: “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.”
The idea of creating the above photo dates back to the end of May 2016, according to Kifert. Nonetheless, it took some time to bring the idea to life, as not always were the pilots present at the base, or some more important issues were being resolved at the moment, as the base was preparing itself to host an open day show.
The photo was eventually taken on Sep. 9, and in this way the project has been born.
The main idea on which the photograph was founded was to create a connection between the Minsk based “Reapers” [Kosynierzy in Polish] and their historical heritage, dating back to the Battle of Britain. The process was long and painful, and took almost a month, however, the results are stunning – the successors of the RAF Squadron 303 have met their ancestry, even though that meeting is virtual.
In the photo, you may see the following pilots of the RAF Squadron (from the left): P/O Ferić, F/Lt Kent, F/O Grzeszczak, P/O Radomski, P/O Zumbach, P/O Łukuciewski, F/O Henneberg, Sgt. Rogowski, Sgt. Szaposznikow. In the front, you may see all of the Fulcrum Drivers, currently stationed at the Minsk Mazowiecki base and flying the MiG-29.
Image Credit: Konrad “kifcio” Kifert (kifcio.pl / spfl.pl)
With Poland scrapping the helicopter deal with the Airbus Helicopters company and opening a new procurement procedure (the aim of which is to meet the “Urgent Operational Requirements” of the Polish Army, with most of the emphasis placed on acquisition of the S-70i Black Hawk helicopters for the special operations component) a close observation of the helicopter debate taking place in Poland may only lead to one grim conclusion: maritime SAR capabilities remaining at disposal of the Polish Navy, responsible for conducting the SAR operations in the Baltic are not going to last long.
However, SAR issue has not been brought up in the general discourse, thus the public has no awareness whatsoever of the critical circumstances.
On Oct. 24, 2016 an additional release has been issued, suggesting that the Ministry of Defence of Poland decided to place the maritime SAR helicopters acquisition at a similar level of priority, as the one dealing with the rotorcraft for the Special Forces. Nonetheless, it is worth highlighting some interesting things.
Even now, there is a burning need to prolong the lifetimes of the operated Mi-14 Haze airframes, which currently serve as the primary heavy SAR platform within the Polish Area of Responsibility in the Baltic region. The first of the such Russian helicopters, manufactured at the beginning of 1980s, is going to be withdrawn in two years.
Typically, a military helicopter is capable of staying in active service for 30 years, as Paweł Malicki, a Polish freelance military journalist noted in a recent podcast. This means that prolonging the lifetime of the rotary-wing aircraft may no longer be feasible, in the light of the emerging structural problems.
This is amplified by the fact that Polish Mi-14PŁ Hazes, which are an ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) platform, primarily, have been adapted and converted to fit in the SAR role by widening the side door, to make it easier for the rescue crew to operate the hoist.
This had a significant impact on the structure of the airframes; moreover, it is said that the helicopters in question face vibration problems. Remaining SAR sorties are flown by the W-3RM platform, which is lighter, but also has limited spatial capabilities and faces fuel and load constraints.
Until Sept. 30, 2015, the SAR duty and QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) was held at Babie Doły and Darlowo bases (with the former one located in Gdynia, in the region of the Gdansk Bay, while the latter one is placed in the very center of the Polish coastline). Since five W-3 helicopters were transferred to the PZL Świdnik facility for maintenance and overhaul, only a single airframe is used to fulfill the SAR commitments – and two helicopters are used for that purpose interchangeably: the W-3RM Anakonda and Mi-14PŁ/R. The W-3 helicopters from Świdnik were not returned, and the overhauls are significantly delayed.
Moreover, Babie Doły base is no longer an active location from where QRA SAR sorties are being flown – the base is used solely for refueling, stopover and hospital transport purposes of the potential victims of accidents at sea. The aforesaid situation has critical ramifications, since the mission endurance time for the rotorcraft is significantly shortened, which also limits the options of providing effective help and assistance, should any incident occur.
The above mentioned situation may not only affect those in need of help but also the SAR crews, flying the outdated aircraft. Potentially, solutions could be found in a single source procurement of new or second-hand specialized SAR helicopters.
The crisis, that would surely emerge should no steps be taken to acquire a capable maritime SAR platform, leads to emergence of a context, in which Poland would face condemnation on the part of the European Union, since provisioning of SAR services within the given AOR (Area Of Responsibility) and retention of the capability within that scope constitutes a political obligation, to say the least.
On a more mundane level, this creates a danger for anyone traveling using the Baltic Sea routes.
One of the possible solutions to the problem that could be applied to utilize Swedish or Danish, or German SAR fleet and assets, however this would require significant expenditure, paid in Euro or Swedish Krona. Secondly, Polish reputation in the international arena, already damaged by lack of serious approach towards the helicopter procurement (canceling the negotiation with Airbus and creating a single source procurement procedure involving the same contractors after one year, on grounds which are potentially of political nature), is going to face further deterioration, with Warsaw not being able to maintain its SAR assets.
Finally, lack of the SAR assets would mean that shipowners will probably wonder whether they should use the Polish ports or sail towards their German counterparts instead, in order to avoid risking the lives of their sailors. Maritime traffic within the Polish ports has been on the rise recently, however, should any risk exist for the crew, the shipowners will become hesitant, especially in the autumn and winter seasons, when chances of surviving a longer period in the waters of the Baltic Sea are close to zero.
Still, the latest steps undertaken by the Polish government seem to suggest that the problem is not being disregarded, and that the authorities are aware of is.
As Dziennik Zbrojny recently noted, within the canceled tender, 8 helicopters were to be received by the Polish 7th Special Operations Squadron, and 13 were to come in SAR/CSAR variant which would be operated by both the CSAR component of the air force, as well as the SAR unit of the Polish Navy.
Noteworthy, the most recent photos from Kuwait published by the Polish General Command of the Armed Forces, depicting jets belonging to the 6th Fighter Squadron based in Krzesiny, near Poznan, fueled speculations that the F-16s might have changed their role in the air war against Daesh into a more offensive one.
In fact, the recce role in the Polish F-16 operational structure is assigned to the 10th FS from Łask, while Krzesiny’s jets are responsible for training and air-to-ground roles.
However, the Polish Ministry of Defense denied the speculations emerging in the mainstream media stating that the mission character has not changed and the Polish F-16s will continue to be limited to reconnaissance missions in Syria and Iraq, carrying drop-tanks and DB110 recon pods only.
Although the denial did not provide any detail about the reasons for swapping the units, such rotations are far from being unusual: air arms regularly rotate airframes deployed abroad to meet maintenance deadlines. Pilots (and supporting personnel) are also rotated so as to give more aircrews the opportunity to gain some experience in combat environment.
For this reason, some air forces deploy to theater their Expeditionary Task Forces that gather aircraft and personnel from several different units. That said, considering the official release, the speculations seem to be unconfirmed. At least until some photos showing the Polish Vipers with bombs under the wings emerge – but that would be another story.
Top image Credit: Polish General Command of the Armed Forces/Twitter. Image below: Filip Modrzejewski / Foto Poork