F-35A Sale to Poland Gains Approval

 - September 16, 2019, 4:09 AM
The F-35A made its first appearance in Poland in July, when four from the USAF 388th and 419th Fighter Wings deployed to Powidz air base as part of Operation Rapid Forge. (photo: U.S. Air Force)

The U.S. State Department has provisionally approved a proposed $6.5 billion sale of up to 32 Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and associated equipment to Poland. The nation would receive the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing version, as used by the U.S. Air Force, with the latest Block 4 software. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency submitted a formal notification to Congress of the planned sale on September 10, following a letter of request from Poland in May.

The planned procurement would include 33 Pratt & Whitney F135 engines, as well as electronic warfare and command, control, communications, navigation, and intelligence systems. The deal would also include a performance-based logistics contract, and access to the F-35’s Autonomic Logistics Information System. Poland would receive a full mission trainer, and other support ‘items’ could include some software development and integration work.

The contract has not yet been negotiated or signed and quantities and dollar figures may change during final negotiations. The public notification reveals that offsets for Polish industry are not included but notes that buyers "typically request” them. Though it says that offset agreements will be defined in negotiations between the purchaser and the contractor, the scope for industrial participation will be limited, since the broad industrial participation program has already been determined. Greg Ulmer, Lockheed’s vice president and general manager for the program has suggested that Polish companies could be approved as “supplier partners,” and could make parts for the Polish aircraft and those supplied to other countries.

The F-35 was selected after a brief evaluation of alternatives (Harpia program) including the Boeing Advanced Super Hornet, the Eurofighter Typhoon (with Leonardo leading the consortium bid), the Saab Gripen, and second-hand F-16s. The analytical and conceptual phase of Harpia concluded in February 2019.

Poland’s Minister for National Defence, Mariusz Błaszczak, visited Eglin AFB, Florida, in June to view 33rd Fighter Wing F-35A operations and to be briefed on maintenance and training aspects. (photo: Poland Ministry of National Defence)

Poland’s F-35As will replace 31 MiG-29s and MiG-29UBs, and about 24 Su-22M4s and Su-22UM3Ks and will augment 48 Block 52 F-16C/Ds. Deliveries will begin in 2024. The F-35 will bring new low-observable capabilities to the Polish air force, and will give Warsaw greater control over its own airspace, most of which is currently within the range of Russian radar and missiles based in the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad. It will also ensure greater interoperability with U.S. and other allied forces.

The Polish MoD set a record budget of more than 44 billion zloty ($11.3 billion) in 2019, as part of a long-term plan to increase spending to 2.1 percent of gross domestic product by 2020, and 2.5 percent by 2030. Polish President Andrzej Duda has forged closer links with the U.S., and selection of the F-35A followed Polish requests for five ex-USAF C-130H Hercules transports to be acquired under the EDA (Excess Defense Articles) program, along with 185 Javelin anti-tank missiles. Last year Poland signed the largest arms deal in the country’s history, paying $4.7 billion for the Raytheon Patriot air defense missile system, comprising two Patriot Configuration 3+ batteries equipped with Lockheed Martin-built Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Missile Segment Enhancement missiles and a Northrop Grumman Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System.

Poland and the U.S. have also agreed to increase the U.S. military presence in Poland, including the construction of six small bases across the country (collectively known as “Fort Trump”) to house about 5,500 rotationally-deployed US troops and to allow for the deployment of a heavy armored division (with 12,000-20,000 troops) for a major exercise or in times of crisis. A divisional headquarters and a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper RPA squadron may also be based in Poland, though some of these infrastructure projects may be canceled as part of the diversion of funding to Trump’s border wall.