The Polish Ministry of Defence plans to initiate the selection process for a new multirole fighter to replace the Soviet-made Su-22 sand MiG-29s now in service and which are reaching the end of their service life.
Operational requirements pertaining the new airframes have already been defined, any new procurement is dependent, to a significant degree, on economic conditions.
Sources tell Defence24 that the Ministry of Defence is initially focusing on the replacement of the Sukhoi Su-22M4 / UM3K with a modern, multi-role jet capable of engaging airborne, ground and naval threats, in any weather conditions, and in full cooperation with the relevant systems used by the NATO forces.
Within the framework of the regular Reviews of the Requirements for Operational Capability carried out in the Polish Armed Forces, operational requirements are being drawn up to determine how modern combat aircraft will be procured to consecutively replace the Su-22 and MiG-29 airframes when they are withdrawn.
“Initially, it is planned that a procedure making it possible to acquire a modern multi-role combat aircraft will be launched during the current planning term, i.e. by 2022,” said the spokesman for the Polish Ministry of Defence, Bartłomiej Misiewicz.
Despite the fact that a decision had been taken by the previous government to prolong the lifetime of the Su-22s by another 10 years, there is now an urgent need to replace those airframes, since their value on the contemporary battlefield is significantly limited.
Complex work carried out by the WZL-2 [Military Aviation Works No. 2] facility will allow further use of those jets in the NATO airspace, but modernization will not provide the Su-22 with the required combat capabilities. Regarding the MiG-29s, which are ten years younger and NATO-compliant, the issue is less pressing but the capabilities offered by these airframes, especially in comparison with the Polish F-16 C/D Block 52+ fighters, are very limited.
General Jerzy Gotowała told Defence24 that the Polish air force’s missions require the procurement of two squadrons of multi-role jets, so that the total number of airframes reaches at least 80. However, the criteria are not only tactical or technical, and financial aspects as well as the overall concept of operational employment are also very important.
It would be good if the air force could phase in the new aircraft before it retires their predecessors, especially in the case of aircraft that have been modernized, and that are still being used operationally at the moment.
The Su-22s are, at the moment, only used to maintain proper pilot skill levels, so if this role remains unchanged, they might be replaced by advanced jet trainers, or combat-capable trainer aircraft. The M-346 Master AJT platform is one of the considered options., but other manufacturers have offered solutions with a greater combat potential, such as the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II or the Eurofighter Typhoon. The latest version of the F-16 is also being considered in this respect.
Final decisions will be made on the basis of the operational plans, and with proper consideration given to the available funds. However, it is important to make a decision which would be informed and which, to the largest possible extent, would take the tactical and technological conditions into account, along with the urgent need to replace the obsolete aircraft which are harder and harder to maintain.
It is also going to be required to secure significant funds, and this will be a critical issue, as new investments will also be required for operational and training infrastructure, which could diminish future operating costs, such as for example training pilots overseas. We cannot rule out a situation, in which it would be required to increase the defence spending level above the current level of 2% of GDP in order to purchase the multi-role aircraft as well as other major weapons, such as new infantry fighting vehicles.