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Poland, eager to bolster its defense capabilities, is considering the acquisition of two additional squadrons of multirole fighter jets. Among the candidates for the contract are the American F-35, the F-15EX, and the South Korean KF-21 Boramae. This article explores what’s at stake in this decision, and the possible consequences for Poland and South Korea.
As part of its efforts to strengthen national security, Poland plans to increase defense spending to four percent of GDP. This decision is aimed at guaranteeing the security of NATO’s eastern region. Among the options for strengthening its defense capability, Poland is considering the acquisition of two additional squadrons of multirole fighter aircraft. The main contenders for this contract are the American F-35, the F-15EX, and the South Korean KF-21 Boramae.
Poland’s crucial choice
Poland’s Minister of Defense, Mariusz Blaszczak, stressed the importance of this investment for Poland’s national security. Poland currently has 48 F-16 fighter jets, and has already placed an order for 32 F-35A aircraft with the American defense company Lockheed Martin. These F-35s are scheduled for delivery to the Polish Air Force in 2024. However, Minister Blaszczak believes that more multi-purpose aircraft are needed to deter any potential threat.
The advantages of the American F-35
Minister Blaszczak praised the American F-35 as “the best fighter in the world”, designed for “network warfare”. Poland is likely to opt for the F-35, given the importance of defense ties between Poland and the United States. However, other factors also come into play.
Closer ties between Poland and South Korea
Poland recently strengthened its defense ties with South Korea by signing a $5.76 billion contract with two South Korean companies for the export of tanks and howitzers. In addition, Poland has already purchased 48 FA-50 light combat aircraft under this agreement. Minister Blaszczak also raised the possibility of acquiring more F-35s or F-15s in the long term.
The challenge of the Korean KF-21 Boramae
One of the F-35’s main competitors in the race for the Polish contract is the South Korean KF-21 Boramae. Although the KF-21 has certain stealth features, they are not comparable to those of the F-35. Nevertheless, the KF-21 aims to bridge the gap between the F-35 and the F-16 in terms of capabilities, while potentially being less expensive to operate than the F-35.
The KF-21 Boramae: an ambitious project
The KF-21 Boramae, also known as “Hawk” in Korean, is one of South Korea’s most ambitious defense projects. The prototype was unveiled in 2021, and the first flight took place in 2023. The initial version of the aircraft should be operational by 2026. The Republic of Korea Air Force plans to integrate 40 KF-21s by 2028 and deploy a total of 120 by 2032 to replace its aging fighter aircraft.
Poland as a gateway to South Korea
Interestingly, instead of sourcing from its traditional allies in Europe, Poland is strengthening its ties with South Korea. This move could make Poland South Korea’s gateway to Western Europe, and even to the Central European regional market. Poland has also expressed interest in joining the KF-21 development program, which would be a welcome development for South Korea.
Implications for Poland
The choice between the F-35, the F-15EX and the KF-21 Boramae will have important implications for Poland. The F-35 is already hailed as the world’s best fighter, but it is also expensive to maintain. Acquiring this aircraft would strengthen defense ties with the United States, but could put a strain on Poland’s budget in the long term.
The F-15EX, on the other hand, is an intermediate option, offering high performance while potentially being less expensive than the F-35. However, this would not necessarily strengthen defense ties with South Korea, which has become a crucial aspect of Polish defense policy.
As for the KF-21 Boramae, it offers a more affordable alternative to the F-35, while enabling Poland to strengthen its cooperation with South Korea. However, its inferior stealth capabilities could be a decisive factor in Poland’s final choice.
Consequences for South Korea
South Korea has everything to gain from this competition. If the KF-21 Boramae is chosen by Poland, this would considerably boost the aircraft’s credibility on the international market. In addition, Poland’s involvement in the KF-21 development program would be a positive sign for South Korea, especially after concerns about the reliability of the Indonesian financing partner.
Poland’s choice between the F-35, the F-15EX and the KF-21 Boramae is crucial to its national security and international relations. Each of these options has advantages and disadvantages, ranging from long-term performance to international cooperation. Poland’s final decision will have repercussions on the NATO region and on relations between Poland, the USA and South Korea. The strategic, financial and technological advantages of each choice must therefore be weighed up carefully before a decision is taken that will shape the future of Polish defense.
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