Poland Needs More Fighter Jets
Upgraded F-16s aren't enough
On March 22, 2017, Poland’s parliamentary committee on national defense took a hard look at the the Polish air force’s F-16s, M-346 jet trainers and cruise missiles.
Gen. Jan Śliwka, the acting deputy commander of the Polish armed forces, briefed parliament on the country’s F-16s. Seven or eight of the 48 jets are currently undergoing maintenance or overhaul, leaving roughly 85 percent of the fleet available for operations. In the last two years, Polish F-16s have deployed to Kuwait to support the air war on ISIS. Poland also plans to send the F-16s to patrol the Baltic region.
A single F-16 has a structural life of 8,000 flight hours, so Poland’s 48 F-16s together can spend 384,000 hours in the air. Poland’s F-16s have spent 53,000 hours in the air so far. That’s 14 percent of the fleet’s life. At the current rate of operations, the F-16s should last at least another 30 years.
F-16. Filip Modrzejewski/Foto Poork, W. Mazurkiewicz
To that end, Poland is upgrading the planes. In 2016, the air force applied the Tape M6.5 upgrade and also began acquiring AGM-158A and AGM-158B cruise missiles, along with new variants of the AIM-120 and AIM-9X air-to-air missiles. Śliwka said one Polish F-16 is in the United States. Having received the M6.5 software, that plane will test-fire an AGM-158 and then return to Poland in April 2017.
The first four AGM-158s are due to arrive at the Krzesiny 31st Air Base by April. The longer-range AGM-158B is scheduled for delivery by 2020.
The Polish air force is also looking to acquire of more Mk. 82 bombs along with GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions and Paveway laser-guidance conversion kits. During the committee meeting, Śliwka said that the Defense Ministry is considering buying additional weapon types — specifically, anti-radiation missiles, new precision-guided bunker-buster bombs and anti-ship missiles.
Su-22. Filip Modrzejewski/Foto Poork, W. Mazurkiewicz
Forty-eight F-16s cannot meet all of Poland’s air-combat needs. The country needs new fighters, especially considering that the Su-22 and MiG-29 are gradually becoming obsolete and could be withdrawn starting in 2024. Śliwka said his command has already specified the requirements for a new multi-role combat aircraft.
Options include second-hand F-16A/Bs or C/Ds with upgrades, brand-new F-16s or F-35s. Second-hand aircraft would be cost half the price of new aircraft but their the operational lifetimes would also be 50-percent shorter. Śliwka said Romania’s experience with second-hand F-16s proved to be more expensive that Romania’s air force had expected.
Thus Poland might be inclined to buy new planes — possibly even F-35s.
At the committee meeting, former deputy minister of defense Czesław Mroczek asked about Poland’s planned procurement of M-346 jet-trainers. Col. Waldemar Bogusławski, deputy head of the armaments-inspection agency, said that the manufacturer confirmed its readiness to deliver the trainers in a configuration compliant with the Polish expectations as early as July 2017.