Last month, the Polish government launched the “Harpia” program, which aims to modernize the nation’s fighter force through the acquisition of a new multi-role jet fighter, the Aviationist reports. These airplanes should mainly replace the Cold War-era aircraft still serving in the Polish Air Force.
Currently, the Ministry of Defense is still carrying out what it described as the analytical-conceptual phase. This means that it is still searching the market for suitable proposals. This process should last until December 2018, although there is the admission that the duration may be extended, given the complexity of the procurement process.
Nevertheless, this week the Polish Ministry of Defense has received five applications for the tender, hailing from Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Leonardo, and Saab. The company that was involved in the acquisition of the F-16 Block 52 currently serving in the Polish Air Force, Fights-On Logistics, is also involved, Defense News reports.
The Harpia program also pairs the prospective new fighter with electronic warfare capabilities, meaning that Warsaw is looking for aircraft with very advanced avionics.
The technical details of the procurement were not disclosed, however.
It should be noted that in June of this year, Deputy Defense Minister Tomasz Szatkowski said that the acquisitions were expected to happen in 2025.
In the early 2000s, the Polish Air Force underwent a drastic increase in capability when it chose the Lockheed-Martin F-16C/D Block 52 as its new multirole fighter. This decision came in the wake of the decommissioning of the obsolescent Soviet-era MiG-21 and MiG-23 jets.
Warsaw acquired 36 of these new fighters. However, it still retained some numbers of Soviet aircraft.
The combat capability of the old Sukhoi Su-22 is now considered questionable. There have been talks regarding the modernization of these assets, but as the operational numbers dwindled, these programs were limited to small upgrades in the electronic suites and paint schemes.
Poland also has several MiG-29 interceptors. Some were received at the end of the Cold War, and others obtained from Germany in 2004. These aircraft are less capable than the F-16s but are still employed on international missions performed by the Polish Air Force, like the Baltic Air Policing.
In spite of their service, these planes now need a replacement.
Lockheed-Martin is still producing the F-16, which flew for the first time in 1974 and is still a respected weapons platform. The F-16V is the newer version and possibly the last.
Even if newly-build airplanes are deemed not acceptable due to budgetary constraints, the acquisition of second-hand machines is contemplated as a possibility by Warsaw. Moreover, older F-16s can be modernized to the F-16V standard.
Another aspect that may spike Poland’s interest in Lockheed-Martin is the F-35 stealth fighter. Also according to Defense News, the document titled “Concept of Defense of the Republic of Poland” from May 23 predicts the purchase of fifth-generation fighters. Warsaw would be interested in acquiring two squadrons of the type, for a total of 32 airframes.
However, the advanced jets are also expensive, a factor that may wane Polish interest.
Boeing is also a strong contender. The company is seeking more customers for the F/A-18E/F as it delivers the final units to current users, the U.S. Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force.
Interestingly enough, Boeing was also invited to partake in the Bulgarian tender for a new fighter jet. The possibility of winning two contests in Eastern Europe after the Canadian debacle is certainly a positive change of pace for the American company.
Leonardo is part of the Eurofighter consortium, which produces the Typhoon. One of the most advanced fighters in the world, the Typhoon has been making headlines this year by winning tenders across the Middle East. However, like the F-35, it is a pricey aircraft.
Finally, Saab competes with the JAS-39 Gripen. The small delta wing fighter is currently the main competitor to the F-16 in the light fighter market. Both models are facing off against each other in the tender for 100 new fighters for the Indian Air Force. The new version of the jet, the JAS-39E/F series, is being built for the Swedish and the Brazilian air forces.
Additionally, the Polish Air Force has been making advancements in other areas.
Recently, the country bought a dozen M-346 Master trainer jets from Leonardo. These are very advanced aircraft capable of training crews for fifth-generation fighters. This acquisition shows the direction the Polish Armed Forces intend to take.
Warsaw intends to expand its military spending from the current 2 percent to 2.5 percent, in order to accommodate all the new acquisitions. Given the plans envisioned for all the branches of the armed forces, this may not be enough to account for everything currently on the table.
In the end, political alignment, budget, and capabilities will define which fighter will ultimately be chosen for the Harpia program.