This year we celebrate 10 years of the F-16 multi-role fighter in our Air Forces. It’s a great opportunity to look back and have a second thought about the decision to buy those aircraft.
We must understand the background of the whole process. The fall of communist Russia allowed us to gain full independence which was a big relief for the whole nation but from a military perspective it brought many problems. Up to 1989 our military aviation was depending on Soviet equipment which was either produced in Poland our imported. The shift of alliances and our will to join NATO pushed the problems even further. We had to think about Poland as a part of a bigger picture what meant that our equipment had to be inter-operable with other countries.
The other important aspect which we have to consider when buying military equipment is time frame. When it comes to fighter aircraft we can easily write about 40+ years of first line operations of any given type. The USAF F-15 C/D is just one example of this process. Recently we have learned that the wing replacement program will allow to push those aircraft in first line up to 2045.
So basically we are talking about 40+ years of an alliance with the country which is selling us his equipment. During those years each aircraft will probably undergo one or two equipment upgrades, some armament integration, software upgrades etc. This tightens the bonds even further but not only with the country but also with the companies from that specific country. Of course it also brings a lot of possibilities for home grown military industry.
If we look back and wonder if Poland could pick up Gripen or any other type we have to put us in a situation where after decades we had to find a new alliance, and this time we could chose it alone, not like it was with Russia after World War II.
Going for the F-16 meant a tighter alliance with the USA what looked very good from Polish perspective.
Today’s aircraft are very similar if we look at the armament that they can carry. Either it is the same or very similar in it’s capabilities. That is why sometimes the added value is more important that the equipment itself.
Photo: Piotr Łysakowski