Yesterday a news broke that the Polish army wants to buy even 96 used F-16 aircraft. But is this a good choice? Will this solve Polish problems? Is this a long term solution?
Bartosz Kownacki from the Ministry of Defense, who is responsible for procurements of the Polish army, says that if they decide for this deal they would come from USA reserves and could be modernized in Polish factories, possibly in Wojskowe Zakłady Lotnicze in Bydgoszcz.
Poland has a few options for its aging Air Force. On thing is certain Su-22 and MiG-29 aircraft need a replacement. Buying used F-16 and modernizing them is for sure one of the possible solutions. The others are buying new aircraft like Gripen E or Eurofighter Typhoon or brand new F-16. Poland could also go all in and pick up the F-35 but it’s a bit late for that decission. All of the options have it’s own pros and cons. There is no magical problem solver which we can pick from the shelf and live a happy life. Each and every decision will bring Poland new headaches.
The most rationale would be to buy new aircraft like F-16V or Gripen E – 96 would be ideal for Polish needs. This would cost a huge amount of money which would probably be not possible to handle by the Polish budget. Although this solution would be the most costly but also it would be a long term solution. Buy once and forget (not quite, as there are the MLU packages, new armament etc. but this is normal).
Buying 96 new aircraft would allow Poland to expect a production line located in the country. That is what India wants while making procurement’s – the famous “make in India”. But we can safely assume that this will never happen. There are bigger priorities – eyes and rockets for the army and they should receive most of the attention of the MoD decision makers.
If Poland doesn’t have the eyes to see the enemy and rockets to defend it’s airfields, aircraft, helicopters, tanks and so one, buying new equipment has no sens. It would be destroyed in the first strike as that would be the strategic choice of our opponents. Why fight with an aircraft in the air if it can be destroyed on the ground?
This leaves Poland with either buying a smaller force of 48 aircraft or buying more but used ones. There is also a more and more popular lease option but this moves the army to far from it’s roots. An army or a nation is not a transport company to lease equipment.
Looking at the possibilities mentioned above buying used F-16 doesn’t sound that bad. Poland has a training scheme which works well and with the addition of M-346 Poland finally starts to be independent from the first to the last step of fighter pilot training. F-16 is also well known in Polish army so training additional personnel could be much easier than 10 years ago. Of course the new aircraft would be different that the F-16C/D Block 52+ used in Poland but this could be overcome much smoother than while buying a different type.
Modernizing the F-16A/B airframes in Poland could also mean a big boost for the Polish industry which isn’t in a very good shape right now. Such a big project opens also possibilities for further modernization programs not only for Polish F-16.
The decision has to be made but we are closer and closer to it. The plans were to push it around 2021 and right now me may observe the beginning of this process or a rapid speed up.
Photos: Piotr Łysakowski / m-346.com