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Poland is considering expanding its combat aircraft fleet, thereby fueling a rivalry between U.S. and European suppliers. The geopolitical and industrial implications could have lasting consequences on the balance of power in Europe.
Poland’s Appetite for Combat Aircraft: Current Context
As Poland eagerly awaits the delivery of the first units from its 2020 order of 32 F-35s, it is now looking to further bolster its combat aircraft fleet with an additional 32 jets, as indicated by Polish defense officials. Currently, Poland boasts an arsenal of 48 F-16s, has placed an order for 32 F-35s, and is set to receive 48 FA-50s.
National Defense Minister Mariuz Błaszczak recently stated on Radio Dla Ciebie: “This isn’t enough; we need at least two more squadrons… multi-role. We’re working on which aircraft to choose.”
Security Imperatives Post-Ukraine Invasion
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Poland, like many other countries in the region, has ramped up efforts to modernize its military. For the Polish Air Force to ensure sufficient operational capability, it’s essential to counter Russia’s Su-34 bombers and Su-35 fighters. Hence, the critical importance of aircraft designed to establish aerial dominance.
Options on the Table: Eurofighter Typhoon vs. F-15EX Eagle II
Tomasz Smura, Program Director at the Warsaw-based Casimir Pulaski Foundation, identifies two viable options in the market: the Eurofighter Typhoon and the F-15EX Eagle II. The Eurofighter is a product of a European consortium jointly led by Airbus, BAE Systems UK, and Leonardo (Italy). On the other hand, the F-15EX is manufactured by Boeing.
Boeing emphasizes the importance of aerial superiority, a lesson drawn from the Ukrainian conflict. If Poland opts for the F-15EX, according to Tim Flood of Boeing, this aircraft would be the “perfect combination” with the already ordered F-35s.
Influence of Political and Economic Relationships
Poland’s procurement history showcases a preference for American systems, as evidenced by recent orders of M1A1 and M1A2 Abrams tanks and the approval of the AH-64E Apache helicopter sale. However, a more pro-European Polish government might potentially change this dynamic.
Competing with Boeing, the Eurofighter has been trying to penetrate the Polish market for years. Costa Panvinirosati, Head of Marketing for Eurofighter at Leonardo, sees Poland as a “really good” opportunity. Leonardo is banking on its existing ties with Poland and the potential benefits of a European aircraft.
Beyond just aircraft acquisition, the industrial aspect is pivotal. Europeans are generally more open to technology transfer. Such collaboration could pave the way for future projects like the “Tempest.” While being Italian, Leonardo has a strong presence in Poland and is considering producing AW149 helicopters locally.
A Decision with Far-reaching Consequences
Poland is at a strategic crossroads. The choice of combat aircraft is not just military but also geopolitical and industrial. The final decision will have repercussions not only on Poland’s aerial power but also on its positioning in the European and global security landscape.
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