Following the third crash of one of its MiG-29 Fulcrum combat aircraft in a little over a year, Poland intends to fast forward its Harpia procurement program. The grounding of the aging MiG-29 fleet has forced the Polish Air Force to place greater reliance upon its inventory of 48 F-16C/D fighters to meet the air-policing and interdiction role.
The Harpia project calls for the acquisition of 32 new-generation multirole jet fighters intended to replace the last of the Polish Air Force’ Soviet-legacy combat aircraft, which also include aging Sukhoi Su-22 Fitters that are used for air-to-ground missions. Under this plan deliveries would commence in 2024 and once completed would provide the Air Force with two fighter squadrons. Funding is to be provided under the new Technical Modernization Plan (2017-2026).
The program is a top priority atop a long-list of planned projects under the Technical Modernization Plan.
The push to accelerate Harpia has been building for some time, but now operational use of the MiG-29 fleet suspended Polish President Andrzej Duda has called for advancing the Harpia procurement via extraordinary funding derived from the larger government budget.
In turn Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak has begun an effort to launch the program immediately, which involves selecting an emissary to oversee the process.
The option cited as most likely to fill the Harpia requirement is the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. The F-35 would meet the Polish objective of acquiring a “fifth-generation” fighter. In fact, the F-35 is the only so-called “5-gen” aircraft on the market.
Other potential candidates might include the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet or F-15 (possibly the latest “X” derivative), with a European option or two such as the Saab Gripen E or Eurofighter Typhoon thrown into the mix to provide prima facie claim of a competitive bid. A purchase of additional F-16s of the latest V configuration may also be considered, though unlikely.
Expect Poland’s close strategic ties with the U.S. to also factor heavily in Warsaw’s decision-making. But most of all expect Warsaw to circle the F-35 as its heavily preferred candidate to replace its Soviet-era fighters.
Click here for our report on Poland’s new €43 billion procurement blueprint, unveiled Feb. 28.