Paris Air Show: Warsaw's F-35 buy might hinder other modernisation efforts
The Polish MoD has confirmed its intention of procuring 32 F-35A Lightning II multirole fighter jets, by sending an official Letter of Request to the US DoD. However, the decision to procure US fighters might affect the MoD’s other modernisation efforts due to budget limitations.
The future F-35A will replace the Polish Air Force’s legacy MiG-29 fighter and Su-22 fighter/bomber aircraft, which are no longer fit to operate on the modern battlefield.
‘I treat this assignment as a priority. I care about replacing the Soviet-era equipment in the Polish Air Force with a more modern one,’ said Mariusz Blaszczak, the Polish Minister of Defence, when he announced the next step in the procurement of US fifth-generation fighter jets under the Harpia programme.
According to Wojciech Skurkiewicz, the Secretary of State at the Polish MoD, the first batch of 16 F-35 fighters could enter service in the Polish Air Force by 2026, while the second batch, comprising of the same number of jets, should be acquired at a later date, most likely by 2035.
Previously, Skurkiewicz also suggested that the MoD might decide to acquire additional F-35s after this period, bringing its total number to 48, which would complement the same number of Polish F-16C/D Block 52+ jets.
Although further details regarding the future deal will only emerge after the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency and Congress accept the potential transaction, it is expected that the procurement of 32 F-35 fighters might cost approximately $3 billion, without taking into account the additional expenditure related to the acquisition of selected weapon systems as well as the modernisation of airfield infrastructure.
As much as the final acquisition value might be further reduced during future negotiations on the deal, the cost of the Harpia programme might become too much of a burden for the Polish MoD, which will have to make some hard decisions about the future of a number of other priority procurement programmes.
On top of investments which might be prolonged or even reconfigured is the second phase of the Wisla programme, under which the MoD intends to procure another six batteries of the Patriot-based medium range air-and-missile defence system.
Wisla is supposed to be supplemented in the future by the short range air defence system, which should be procured under the Narew programme. However, this is still to be confirmed by the MoD.
The future of the Kruk combat helicopter programme has been lingering for a few years to its end, as well as the much awaited acquisition of a fleet of several dozen utility helicopters and a number of naval platforms, such as submarines and corvettes/frigates.
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