Author Archives: Jacek Siminski

Poland Eyes Procurement of Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance/SIGINT Aircraft.

The Polish Ministry of Defense plans to acquire a new MPA and a new spyplane.

As Dziennik Zbrojny reports, on Apr. 5, the Armament Inspectorate of the Polish Ministry of Defense has initiated a procedure to acquire a complex aerial reconnaissance system, also known under the name “Płomykówka” (Barn Owl).

The first stage of the said program, the goal of which is to acquire SIGINT, IMINT and RADINT capable platform (Signal, Imagery and Radio intelligence) took on the form of a detailed market analysis.

According to the information obtained from the AI (Armament Inspectorate) by the Dziennik Zbrojny’s editorial team, the first phase is to end in mid 2017.

Meanwhile, the “Rybitwa” (Tern) program initiated in April, focused on maritime reconnaissance and Anti-Submarine/Anti-Ship Warfare, is to be finalized in September 2018.

The procurement timeline, at the moment, remains confidential, to a degree so high that there is no knowledge available whether the programs have been covered within the “Technical Modernization Plan” implemented by the MoD between 2017 and 2022.

The Inspectorate solely claims that Płomykówka task has a priority, over the Rybitwa initiative, and that the implementation proceeds as planned.

Tomasz Dmitruk of Dziennik Zbrojny had acquired some relevant information pertaining to that matter earlier, and the publicly available knowledge suggested that three reconnaissance aircraft were to be acquired within the “Płomykówka” program, with the “Rybitwa” maritime patrol/reconnaissance assets scheduled to be procured later. The latter program assumes that three Maritime Patrol Aircraft would be acquired between 2023 and 2030.

Image Credit: Wikimedia

U.S. and Polish Hercules trained to perform cargo drops while evading MiG-29 interception during exercise in Poland

Take a look at these interesting photographs of Polish and U.S. C-130 Hercules performing cargo-drops, landings on unprepared strips, while evading MiG-29 fighter engagements.

U.S. and Polish C-130 aircrews took part in exercise AvDet 17-2 a Hercules Training Operation that took place between Mar. 3 and 28, at Powidz airbase located in Central Poland.

AvDet 17-2 included a cargo-drop and precise-landing contest as well as tactical sorties, landings on unprepared strips, fighter engagements with the Polish MiG-29 fighter aircraft, and night operations carried out with the use of NVGs (Night Vision Goggles).

Every sortie began with a mass briefing, during which the formation leader explained and specified the assumptions and objectives of the mission, along with the details of the route and safety and communications aspects concerning the crews.

On the day when Foto Poork’s Filip Modrzejewski visited the airbase, fighter engagement sorties were planned with the involvement of the Polish Air Force MiG-29 jets hailing from the Minsk Mazowiecki airbase, located in the vicinity of Warsaw.

The goal of such sorties was to allow the Fulcrum pilots to refine their intercept skills, while allowing the Hercules crews to deal with enemy fighters by proper route planning and tactical maneuvers.

Modrzejewski was given the opportunity to fly aboard a Polish C-130 during a mission mainly flown at 14,000 feet (probably, a bit too high to avoid interception). The Hercules crews claimed that even though the MiG-29 radar is not a state of the art system, it has more than enough capability to detect and lock onto an “enemy” Hercules.

C-130s heading to the drop zone

The tactics adopted in scenarios as such include tactical maneuvers at high G rates, or complete evasion and avoidance of the areas within which the fighter aircraft remain active. Nonetheless, the airlifters were eventually intercepted by a pair of Fulcrums, and then a short formation flight with the MiGs took place, with the crews enjoying the company of the fighter aircraft. After the “show of force” came to an end, the cargo planes returned to base, with a follow-up debriefing.

A MiG-29 escorts the Polish C-130 after intercepting the Hercules flying a tactical airlift mission

Beyond the fighter engagement sorties, cargo drops were performed at night and during the day. In bad weather conditions, the drops were carried out with the use of sandbags, instead of real payload or personnel, to avoid potential losses. The operations took place in the airspace over the 33rd Airlift Base in Powidz. Even though some plans existed to perform sorties over the so-called Błędowska Desert area in Poland, the arrangement was eventually canceled due to adverse weather conditions in that region.

Polish C-130 performs tactical air drop

Airdrop in progress!

U.S. C-130H Hercules over Powdiz

When it comes to the precision cargo drop and landing contest, finalizing the exercise, the crew of the ‘1501’ Hercules aircraft, the very same airlifter that was the first one that has been delivered to Poland exactly eight years ago, won the competition held within the framework of the US AvDet 17-2 training operation.

View from the cargo door of the Hercules

A glimpse into the cockpit of the Polish Air Force C-130

The competition took place on Mar. 24. 2017 and involved four crews – two from the US and two from Poland. The American airmen, as noted within the official report issued by the Polish MoD, operated the C-130H airframes, whereas the Polish crews were flying the C-130E variant, with the crews including pilots, loadmasters, flight engineers and navigators.

The contest covered the areas of precise landings and precise cargo drops. Polish Air Force’s ‘1501’ airframes, commanded by Cpt. Szymon Gajowniczek, has left the competition far behind, winning in both categories.

The U.S. “legacy” C-130 taxiing

In case of the cargo-drop portion of the contest, the winners were able to drop the load 48 meters from the target, 3 meters closer than the American crew managed to do.

In case of the landing competition, the Polish pilots managed to land only 12 meters from the indicated point. Considering the fact that C-130E is 30 meters long, the aforesaid results are very impressive.

Landing on an unprepared strip

Image Credit: Wojciech Mazurkiewicz and Filip Modrzejewski

Salva

Polish Parliamentary National Defense Committee Discusses the Future of the F-16s and Prospects of Acquiring 5th Gen. Jets

Polish Parliamentary Committee on National Defense analyzed the current state of the Polish Air Force’s F-16 fighter fleet, its future, as well as plans related to the M-346 AJTs and JASSM / JASSM-ER missiles.

According to the report issued by Tomasz Dmitruk of the Polish “Dziennik Zbrojny” outlet, on Mar. 22, during the meeting of the Polish Parliamentary Committee on National Defense, Division General Pilot Jan Śliwka, who is also acting as the Deputy Commander of the Polish Armed Forces, presented the Polish Parliament the history and capabilities possessed by the F-16 multi-role jet aircraft, along with an overview of their technical status, maintenance requirements, armament and pilot’s training program. The General has also talked about the missions assigned to the backbone of the Polish Air Force.

The information presented during the event also provided a unique insight into the operations of the aircraft.

7-8 out of 48 jets are currently undergoing maintenance or overhauls – this constitutes 14-17% of the fleet, still leaving around 85% of the aircraft combat-ready. A single F-16 jet can spend 8,000 hours in the air, which means that total lifetime is equal to 384,000 hours (48 aircraft, 8000 hours each).  Based on the report issued by Dmitruk, all of the Jastrząb (Polish Air Force’s name ascribed to the F-16) jets have spent 53,000 hours in the air so far, which amounts up to 14% of the total lifetime.

This means that, should the operational activity of the jets be maintained at the current level, there is still an option to operate the aircraft for the next 30 years.

Last year we have seen the initial steps related to MLU (Mid-Life Update) of the Polish F-16 fighter fleet, as the Tape M6.5 upgrade has been implemented, following the decision to acquire the new AGM-158A JASSM and AGM-158B JASSM-ER cruise missiles, along with new variants of the AIM-120 AMRAAM and AIM-9X Sidewinder AAMs (Air-to-Air Missiles).

The Polish Air Force is also looking forward to the acquisition of more Mk 82 bombs and JDAM and Paveway conversion kits.

Nonetheless, during the Committee Meeting, Śliwka informed that the Ministry is also analyzing the potential prospects of acquisition of more armament for the fighter jets which could expand their capabilities in specific domains. Notably, throughout the last two years we have witnessed an intensification of operations undertaken by the Polish F-16s with Warsaw’s Vipers deploying to Kuwait to join the air war against ISIS and plans to take part in the NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission.

One of the priorities for the Polish Air Force is to acquire anti-radiation missiles. Orbital ATK’s AARGM missile has been quite intensively marketed in Poland throughout the past two years, so it may be safely stated that this weapon is a serious contender to becoming the primary SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) armament for the Polish jets. Furthermore, the MoD is also scrutinizing the prospects of acquiring new PGM (Precision Guided Munition) ordnance (including submunition pods to act against tanks and armored assets, as well as penetrating bombs which could be used to neutralize fortifications underground); lastly, the Air Force would also like to integrate the jet with an anti-ship missile.

Prospective procurement of new multi-role jets for the Polish Air Force was the second issue covered during the meeting.

This matter is somewhat urgent, since the Su-22 and MiG-29 aircraft are gradually becoming obsolete, with a prospect of being withdrawn starting from 2024-2025.

Their successor, as Dmitruk reports, shall be selected well ahead of the retirement of the two post-Soviet era jets.

According to General Śliwka, quoted by Dziennik Zbrojny, the requirements for the new multi-role combat aircraft have already been defined by the command, while the Armament Inspectorate (Polish MoD’s procurement body) is dealing with an analysis that is going to be included in a Strategic Defense Review, similar to its recent British counterpart.

The options currently weighted and considered, span from the acquisition of second-hand F-16A/B or C/D aircraft with subsequent upgrade, through procurement of brand new F-16s, to the eventual purchase of 5th Gen. F-35 aircraft.

The early conclusions indicate that procurement and upgrade of the Alpha/Bravo Falcons would lack a proper degree of cost-effectiveness.

After further analysis, and with the context taken into account at the MoD, General Staff and the Armament Inspectorate, Bartosz Kownacki, Polish Deputy Minister of Defence stated that the workload and expenditure entailed would be too high, in relation to potential benefits.

Kownacki noted that even though the price of second-hand aircraft would be at the level of 50% of the price of a new aircraft, the operational lifetime would also be 50% shorter. General Śliwka also mentioned the fact that the case of Romanian F-16 procurement was also looked at, and it turned out that the cost was higher, in comparison with potential acquisition of new aircraft. Hence the MoD might be inclined to go on, and join the F-35 users club, even though this is a longterm prospect plan

Meanwhile, the rumors (which circulated last year) that Poland would be considering selling its jets to Romania, have been once again denied.

During the meeting, the opposition also had a chance to ask questions to the Ministry.

First of the covered issues, raised by the former Deputy Minister of Defence Czesław Mroczek, dealt with the procurement of the M-346 jet-trainers and their compliance with the Polish specifications. Col. Waldemar Bogusławski, Deputy Head at the Armament Inspectorate, answered that the manufacturer confirmed its readiness to deliver the AJT [Advanced Jet Trainer] in a configuration compliant with the Polish expectations as late as in July this year.

Second question referred to the JASSM missiles.

General Jan Śliwka announced that one of the Polish Vipers is currently staying in the United States, and the tape M6.5 upgrade has been already introduced in its case. Following a test firing of the missile, the jet is to return back to Poland in April. The remaining aircraft are going to receive the software upgrades domestically, in Poland. Delivery of the first four JASSM missiles is to be finalized by the end of April (the photos published in the social media by the press officer of the Krzesiny 31st Airbase suggest that two missiles have already been delivered).

The 2014 procurement contract assumes that the missiles would be delivered in full between 2018 and 2019, with the AGM-158B JASSM-ER ordnance to follow, and subsequent deliveries scheduled in this case before 2020. The -ER missiles were contracted in December, last year.

Image Credit: Filip Modrzejewski / Foto Poork, W. Mazurkiewicz

AW101 Merlin Helicopter: a Prospective SAR Platform for the Polish Navy?

The Leonardo (AgustaWestland) HH-101 Caesar has been demonstrated in Warsaw. Leonardo Helicopters company starts a marketing campaign in Poland

Leonardo is trying hard to pitch the AW101 Merlin helicopter as a perfect offer for the Polish Navy following the cancellation of the former multi-role helicopter tendering procedure (during which Airbus Helicopters Caracal was indicated as the winning bid).

This is what the demo that took place at the Bemowo/Babice airfield in Warsaw last week seems to suggest.

Considered that the tender was canceled and that the Polish MoD would be inclined to acquire several types instead of a single platform, the presentation of the HH-101A Caesar (a variant of the baseline AW101 advanced medium lift helicopter used by the Italian Air Force for Personnel Recovery, Special Forces Operations support, SAR, MEDEVAC and Slow Mover Intercept) is a clear symptom that the PR campaign concerning the procurement SAR plaftorm for the Polish Navy has just started.

Enjoying strong support by the current government, which is rejecting anything that was done by the predecessors including the selection of Caracal during the previous tender, PZL Świdnik (the biggest helicopter manufacturer in Poland and part of Leonardo-Finmeccanica’s Helicopter Division since 2015) is quite confident that the AW101 has no competition on the market when it comes to the maritime operational regime.

However, some of the statements made by President Krzysztof Krystowski about the Leonardo helicopter are at least inaccurate, as duly noted by Interia.pl’s Sławomir Zagórski.  For instance, Krystowski said that the Italian helicopter is 20 to 30 years younger than its competitors, even though the AW101, on which the more modern Caesar is based, made its maiden flight on Oct. 9, 1987, about 10 years before the Sikorsky’s S-92, which is considered a competitor of the Merlin in the global market (although S-92 is not offered in the Polish tender as of now, only the SH-60, designed at the end of the 1970s, is being offered according to the reports).

Nonetheless, it cannot be negated that the AW101 is a great, capable and specialized maritime helicopter.

The aircraft is very safe, since it utilizes 3 engines, contrary to its counterparts proposed by other manufacturers, which are equipped with 2 engines. Two engines are running during a normal flight, while the third acts as a reserve.

Moreover, its size allows the AW101 to carry up to 30 persons onboard, making it a perfect platform for SAR operations (and not only…). For this reason, the Merlin is operated by several air arms around the world, including the Italian Navy, the Royal Navy, Royal Danish Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Portuguese Air Force and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. Noteworthy, a Merlin variant, designated VH-71 Kestrel, was developed and manufactured in the US by a consortium headed by Lockheed Martin to serve in the US presidential transport fleet but the program was cancelled.

Therefore, it’s safe to say that the AW101 and its variants, with proven experience over the North Sea, in the Arctic or over the Atlantic certainly has features that make it a perfect solution, in the specific field of applications – maritime SAR ops in adverse weather conditions.

On the other hand, the W-3 Anakonda helicopters operated by the Polish Naval Aviation Brigade  are capable of picking up only 2 casualties at sea and are very sensitive to adverse weather, whereas the Mi-14 Hazes, also used by the Polish Navy, are expected to be withdrawn from service soon, for safety/maintenance reasons.

But pilot shortage could be an ever greater issue for the Polish Navy than the helicopters’ obsolescence.

Back in January, three Mi-14 pilots, including two commanders who had credentials required to fly the helicopter in adverse weather, retired. Along with them, two rescuers, engineer and some other members of specialized personnel – 23 soldiers in total – have left the unit, facing a prospect of cuts in the area of retirement benefits, expected to be introduced by the government. Only one and a half of the Mi-14 crew still serves in the Polish Naval Aviation Brigade, as Zagórski was told by the Navy officials. One should also remember that Mi-14PŁ/R helicopters are also coming near the end of their operational lifetimes, with one expected to be withdrawn by the end of this year, and the other having its service life expectancy one year longer. As we were writing last year, the Mi-14 cannot be replaced with the W-3 Anakonda helicopter, due to weather limitations imposed on the latter.

Anyway, the possible procurement of the Leonardo helicopter praised by the service and supported by the government has also been criticised by some analysts.

There is someone who questioned whether Poland would require such a helicopter, considered the current platforms being flown and the fact that the new chopper may turn out to be barely affordable for Warsaw.

The size also has raised some concern, since 14,600 kilograms of maximum take-off weight make would make the AW101 unable to operate from landing pads of the ships of the Polish Navy. This would also limit the ASW (Anti Submarine Warfare) capabilities of the new asset: for this reason the MTOW (Maximum Take Off Weight) requirement within the former tender was limited down to 10.5 tonnes. What is more, the high MTOW of the AW101 does not translate into higher payload carrying capacity, which is comparable with the helicopters of the 10 tonnes-class. This is caused by additional load imposed by the third engine and a larger main gearbox.

Furthermore, there is the issue of cooperation between the Polish MoD and the Leonardo-owned PZL Świdnik facility. The sailors of the Naval Aviation Brigade doubt whether the facility could cope with delivering the AW101, seeing it struggle with maintaining the W-3WA Anakonda rescue helicopters. The first of the aircraft which underwent maintenance and overhaul works at Świdnik has been returned with one year of delay. This contributes to a prospect of a crisis in the Polish SAR units – as Mi-14s are being withdrawn, and W-3s are still in Świdnik, the equipment available would be simply insufficient to maintain proper capabilities along the coast, as we reported last year.

Anyway, since the procurement is defined by the Polish MoD as being of principal importance for the national security, it has been made confidential. Hence the bidding information remains unavailable publicly. This issue has been criticized by General Waldemar Skrzypczak one of the generals who were dismissed from the Army back in December – Polish General Command has suffered from a “purge”, with most of the top officers resigning from service, following the dismissal of General Miroslaw Rózański, General Commander of the Armed Forces.

The claims suggest that confidentiality would make it easier for the government to hide the per unit cost of both the AW101 and any other contender making it impossible to compare the chosen SAR helicopter with those selected in former tender, where 50 Caracals were to be acquired for a gross amount of PLN 13.3 billion, along with proper offset arrangements (training, maintenance and logistical capabilities established in Poland).

Leonardo said that the helicopters could be delivered in two years from the signing the potential procurement agreement.

Update: reportedly the Italian HH-101A Caesar helicopter presented in Warsaw was forced to perform an emergency landing at Dubnica airport in Slovakia on its way back to Italy, after two out engines lost power/suffered an unspecified failure. The aircraft landed safely on the third engine and the crew is waiting in Slovakia for the spares to be delivered. A photo of the aircraft on the ground was published on the Airplane-Pictures network.

Images: Foto Poork’s Wojciech Mazurkiewicz and Filip Modrzejewski

Salva

Salva

Polish F-16s prepare to take part in NATO Baltic Air Patrol mission for the very first time

Poland is about to support the air policing mission over the Baltic States.

The Polish Air Force is to commit some of its F-16 jets to the NATO BAP (Baltic Air Policing) operation beginning in May.

This is going to be the first time long-term deployment to Lithuania for the Polish Vipers: so far, Poland has contributed to the mission with the venerable MiG-29 Fulcrum jets.

Pilots and soldiers of the 31st Airbase of Krzesiny (in the vicinity of Poznan) are going to be tasked with operating four F-16 airframes during the BAP mission. Furthermore, as Polska Zbrojna reports, the operation is going to have a very joint and expansive character, since the deployment is to include personnel of the Łask 32nd AB (which is the second base hosting the Polish Air Force’s Lockheed jets), navigators and air traffic controllers, weather specialists, Polish military Police, as well as intelligence and counterintelligence servicemen.

This is the first time that the Polish F-16 replaced the Soviet-era Fulcrums in the Baltic Air Policing task. A few years back, doubts were voiced, as to why the F-16 could not deployed in the Baltics, ranging from cost considerations, to FOD damage risk.

It seems that tape M6.5 update, recently implemented, was required to have the jets deployed.

It is interesting to notice a change in the Polish F-16’s engagement doctrine: along with operating in the “recce role” against ISIS in the Middle East, they will also support BAP from Lithuania.

If you want to find out more about the Polish F-16 aircraft, check out our feature article published last year.

The “Orlik” Deployment is going to be stationed at the BAP MOB (Main Operating Base) in Šiauliai. Intelligence and ATC officers and navigators are going to be stationed at the control and recce center of Karmelava.

The Polish rotation is going to last from May 1 to Aug. 31, with the Polish pilots of the Krzesiny AB carrying out the QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) and air policing duties. Deployment of the forces is going to begin in late April, and it is going to be preceded with “Orlik-17” exercise, planned in Poland.

This is the seventh Polish rotation in support of Baltic Air Policing operation, with the Poles now taking over the responsibilities from the Dutch RNlAF pilots flying the F-16 fighter aircraft, who have been on duty in Lithuania since Jan 5, 2017.

The first ever Polish deployment took place back in 2006. The mission has been carried out since 2004, when Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia asked NATO to provide air assets to protect their airspace.

Image Credit: Wojciech Mazurkiewicz