Logic stacks up against Italian option for Polish MiG-29 replacement
After an unsuccessful attempt to secure second-hand F-16s from the US to facilitate the transfer of MiG-29s to Ukraine, Poland has been eyeing Eurofighter Typhoons from Italy as an alternative backfill option.
Back in 2018, when Poland launched the Harpia programme to acquire 32 new multirole fighters, one of the companies to have expressed an interest was Leonardo. The acquisition process was delayed due to funding restrictions and the COVID-19 pandemic, and when Warsaw did eventually select the Lockheed Martin F-35A, it sparked controversy as the deal was not a competitive procurement procedure.
After the US in early March 2022 blocked a plan by Poland to swap MiG-29s for additional F-16s, much attention has reverted to Leonardo as Warsaw looks at other options.
Leonardo has proposed ex-Italian Air Force Eurofighter Tranche 1 platforms and M-346FA light attack aircraft to replace Polish MiG-29s and Su-22s. Poland would receive 12-16 Eurofighters that Italy had previously tried to sell to Bulgaria as MiG-29 replacements (Sofia eventually chose the F-16V from Lockheed Martin).
Supporters of the Eurofighter option for Poland argue that Typhoon could serve as a temporary solution until Poland receives its F-35As, with the first of these aircraft expected in 2024 and FOC planned for 2030.
However, several factors make this option unlikely. Poland has stated that it wishes to obtain used, free, or cheap aircraft in exchange for its MiG-29s — and as the EU is not funding any Polish acquisition of Eurofighter, Warsaw would have to pay a significant price that would not make the aircraft a cost-effective stopgap before the first F-35A arrives.
Additionally, strong Polish-US procurement ties suggest that Italy faces an uphill struggle.
Polish defence analyst Jacek Siminski told Shephard that the Italian option seems to be ‘popular among lobbyists in Poland, but the MoD does not seem to be a fan of any of these, given its inclination to buy American’.
Neither the Polish MoD nor its Italian counterpart responded when contacted for comment by Shephard.
It should be noted that the Polish Air Force already faces various logistical challenges associated with having to integrate and train pilots across from Cold War-era aircraft (MiG-29s and F-16s) to the more advanced F-35A.
This cross-training will prove to be extremely difficult and may, in some cases, be impossible. Throwing yet another fighter jet into the mix, even temporarily, would be illogical.
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