Poland intends to expedite plans for a fighter procurement intended to replace the last of its Soviet-legacy combat aircraft under its Harpia program. Funds for the acquisition will be allocated from Poland’s 2018-2022 Military Modernization Plan. The leftover Soviet-era fighters include MiG-29 Fulcrums (used in the air-to-air role) and Sukhoi Su-22 Fitters (used in air-to-ground missions), which Poland wants to replace for both reasons of upgrading capability and weening the country off of Russian-designed platforms.
Poland’s Minister of National Defense Mariusz Blaszczak has instructed the Polish armed forces’ chief of general staff to speed up implementation of the Harpia program in order to ensure deliveries of the new fighters begin in 2024. The aim is to wrap-up the analytical and conceptual phase of the program next year.
Plans call for Poland to acquire at least two squadrons (32 fighters) of aircraft which are to feature an airborne electronic warfare capability and be able to perform in certain maritime operations.
Potential contenders for the Polish fighter contract include Saab (Gripen E), Lockheed Martin (F-35 and F-16V), Boeing (F/A-18 Super Hornet) and the Eurofighter Typhoon pitched by Leonardo.
The acquisition is being hastened by the age of the legacy fighters, as well as maintenance concerns.
The MiG-29s were acquired from retired German and Czech stocks between 1995 and 2004. One MiG-29 crashed in July prompting investigations into the incident. This led to implementation of service bulletins on the aircraft’s Klimov RD-33 engines and K-36DM ejection seats prior to the fleet’s return to flight operations in early November.
The Polish Air Force acquired 90 Su-22s between 1984 and 1988, reducing the size of the total fleet to 32 units in 2010. The Air Force had previously planned on retiring its remaining 32 Su-22s by 2014 or 2015 when their service lives were expected to expire, but will now keep them in service until at least 2023 following their return to operational status in late September.
The need to replace the Su-22s and MiG-29s with more advanced models confronted the Law & Justice-led government when it came to power in November 2015. One option considered at the time was the procurement of 96 secondhand American F-16A/Bs that would be overhauled and upgraded by a Polish military aviation plant prior to induction into Polish Air Force service. That plan was later dropped due to the upgrade costs that would be incurred.