How Poland plans to land an F-35 deal and ‘Fort Trump’

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WARSAW, Poland — By 2026, the Polish Ministry of Defence plans to allocate about 185 billion zloty (U.S. $47 billion) toward acquiring new weapons and military equipment, with fifth-generation fighter jets a top priority.

Twenty years after Poland joined NATO, and despite the integration of some Western-made fighter jets and armored vehicles, the country still uses Soviet-designed gear dating back to the 1955 Warsaw Pact.

Poland and other allies in Eastern Europe are intensifying their military modernization efforts in response to Russian activity along NATO’s eastern flank and its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.

For 2019, the Polish MoD set a record budget, at more than 44 billion zloty, as required by the country’s plan to raise defense spending to 2.1 percent of gross domestic product in 2020, and reach 2.5 percent in 2030. A significant share of the country’s defense spending is to be directed at the acquisition of Western-made gear.

Warsaw’s potential acquisition of fifth-gen fighters is one of the top modernization projects in the pipeline. In May, Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said the ministry sent a letter of request to the U.S. regarding Warsaw’s plan to acquire 32 F-35A aircraft. The fighters are to replace the Air Force’s outdated, Soviet-designed Sukhoi Su-22 and Mikoyan MiG-29 jets.

Negotiations for the jets are taking place as Warsaw is seeking a permanent U.S. military presence in Poland, dubbed “Fort Trump.” Warsaw offered to allocate at least $2 billion toward the project under which the U.S. would build a military base in the country. On June 12, Polish President Andrzej Duda met with U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington to discuss the initiative and ink a joint declaration on defense cooperation regarding U.S. force posture in Poland.

“The United States plans to enhance its current military presence of approximately 4,500 rotational U.S. military personnel in Poland. This enduring presence is expected to grow by about 1,000 additional U.S. military personnel in the near-term, and would focus on providing additional defense and deterrence capabilities in Poland,” the declaration read. “With the understanding that the increased U.S. force presence in Poland is made sustainable with Polish support, Poland plans to provide and sustain jointly determined infrastructure for the initial package of additional projects listed below, at no cost to the United States and taking into account the planned level of its use by U.S. forces.”

Trump is scheduled to visit Poland from Aug. 31-Sept. 1. The topics of a stronger U.S. troop presence in the country, as well as a potential F-35 sale, are expected to come up.

But F-35 acquisition negotiations will likely be separate from Fort Trump discussions, as the logistics and technical aspects of a troop deployment deal are nearing a conclusion, according to Tomasz Smura, the director of the research office at the Warsaw-based Casimir Pulaski Foundation.

“If Poland decides to buy the F-35, this will open an array of new possibilities before the Polish Air Force in the upcoming decades. This aircraft offers stealth and interoperability capacities that are currently not available to the Polish military,” Smura told Defense News. “However, there are also some critical voices on this potential purchase. Some analysts doubt whether we should introduce a second type of fighter instead of expanding Poland’s fleet of 48 F-16s. This number of modern fighter jets doesn’t match Poland’s military needs and the country’s size. Other analysts add that we’re simply not ready to fully use the capacities offered by the F-35, and that further F-16s would suffice to match the current state of development of the air forces of our eastern neighbors.”

Despite the country’s rising defense expenditure, some observers also doubt Poland’s capacity to finance the F-35 acquisition alongside other ambitious military procurements, such as the Wisla air defense program.

In March 2018, Poland signed a letter of offer and acceptance with the U.S. government to purchase Raytheon’s medium-range Patriot system. Under the deal, Warsaw is to acquire two Patriot Configuration 3+ batteries fitted with Northrop Grumman’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System, as well as Lockheed Martin-made Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Missile Segment Enhancement missiles.

Deliveries are expected by the end of 2022, with plans to reach an initial operational capacity around the 2023-2024 time frame, according to data from the Polish MoD.

Warsaw’s other procurement plans include short-range air defense systems, combat helicopters for the country’s Air Force, new submarines for the Polish Navy, UAVs for various military branches, and the buildup of cyber warfare capacities using new hardware, the ministry said.



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