Poland explores loyal wingman options for F-35 fleet
The Polish MoD has been evaluating the UAS market in search of a loyal wingman platform to work alongside its future fleet of Lockheed Martin F-35A fighter jet, the Deputy General Commander of the Polish Armed Forces has revealed.
Addressing the International Fighter Conference 2023 in Madrid on 6 November, Maj General Cezary Wisniewski disclosed that the Polish Ministry of National Defence (NMD) was engaged in a comprehensive market assessment of the emerging loyal wingman uncrewed combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) capability. The evaluation has formed part of the ministry's efforts to meet the requirements of the Harpii Szpon (Harpy's Talon) adjunct programme for the F-35 fighters.
‘We are not yet at the point of an acquisition,’ Maj Gen Wisniewski said. ‘We are [now] just waiting for more information to be sure that we don't make a mistake – we just want to join the mainstream approach, [but] we think that industry is not ready to provide the capabilities yet.’
Wisniewski specifically stated that the development of the MQ-28A Ghost Bat from Boeing Australia was being watched closely, alongside the Royal Australian Air Force's (RAAF) loyal wingman procurement and US Air Force's Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) effort.
Poland has committed to acquiring 32 F-35A aircraft, as announced by the US State Department in September 2019. Based on the assumption that each crewed fighter would require three wingmen, Shephard Defence Insight projected that the NMD could award a US$1.5 billion contract for 96 loyal units between 2025 and 2028.
The gross and flyaway unit cost for the Ghost Bat have been estimated at $33.6 million and $26.9 million, respectively. The platform was designed as a multirole system to escort crewed aircraft. Boeing Defence Australia, Phantom Works and the RAAF began development in 2013, and the aircraft took its first flight in February 2021.
The Australian government has invested in the system, but other countries and their forces have expressed interest as well, including the US Air Force, who could potentially include the Ghost Bat in its nascent CCA programme. Discussions have also taken place between Boeing and the UK to see whether the MQ-28A UAS could fit the country's loyal wingman capability, company officials told Shephard in May.
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