F-35As for Poland; More F-16s for Romania

 - January 31, 2020, 6:12 AM
Poland got its first chance to see the F-35A up close in July 2019, when U.S. Air Force F-35As visited Powidz air base during Operation Rapid Forge. (photo: U.S. Air Force)

Poland is to sign for the procurement of 32 Lockheed Martin F-35As on January 31, announced the country’s defense minister, Mariusz Blaszcak, on Twitter. The signing is scheduled to take place at the Deblin air base at 3 p.m. local time.

Blaszczak said that the deal is valued at $4.6 billion, which is $1.9 billion less than the estimated cost of the sale that was approved by the State Department on September 11 last year. That deal not only included 32 F-35As and engines, plus one spare engine, but also covered a range of other equipment, and training and support packages, including a full-mission trainer.

Poland first signaled its intention to acquire the F-35A in early 2019 when references were made to a “fifth-generation fighter” being sought to answer its Project Harpia requirement for a MiG-29 replacement. That intention was translated into an official Letter of Request for the F-35A being sent to Washingon in late May.

In Polish air force service, the F-35As will equip two squadrons, with the first six aircraft initially being retained in the U.S. for training at Luke AFB, Arizona. The first is due to be handed over to the Poles in 2024. After training at Luke, the first aircraft are expected to arrive in Poland in 2026, with the first squadron attaining initial operational capability in 2028. The final delivery is slated for 2030.

Another prospect for the F-35 in Europe is Finland, which is due to host F-35As in mid-February as part of its HX Challenge trials, which are evaluating the five bidders to replace the country’s Hornets.

Meanwhile, on January 27 the defense ministers of Portugal (João Gomes Cravinho) and Romania (Nicolae-Ionel Ciucă) signed a contract at Monte Real air base, where Portugal fields its two F-16 squadrons, for the Romanian air force to acquire an additional five F-16s from Portugal in a €130 million ($143.6 million) deal that was approved by the Romanian parliament in December.

Four F-16AM single-seaters and one two-seat F-16BM—which have already gone through the MLU program—will undergo further modernization and modification to Romanian specifications by OGMA in Portugal prior to handover. The first four are due to be delivered in 2020, with the last aircraft following early next year.

Having once desired new-build Western fighters, the Romanian air force turned to secondhand F-16 aircraft due to budgetary constraints, studying Israeli and Belgian F-16s before focusing on ex-U.S. Air Force Block 25s. However, ex-Portuguese F-16s represented a more cost-effective deal, and 12 (nine F-16AMs and three F-16BMs) were acquired in 2013. Deliveries were made in the fall of 2016, the aircraft being operated by Escadrila 53 Vanatoare at Fetesti.

F-16 Romania
One of Romania’s current F-16AM fleet approaches a U.S. Air Force tanker for refueling. It is equipped with a Lockheed Martin Sniper targeting pod. (photo: U.S. Air Force)