WARSAW, Poland, and MILAN — As Poland awaits the first units of its 2020 order of 32 F-35 fighter jets, Warsaw is considering further expanding its combat aircraft fleet with a purchase of 32 additional warplanes, according to Polish defense officials.
“We own 48 F-16s. We have ordered 32 — two squadrons — of F-35s. Next year, the first units will be in the hands of Polish pilots. We have ordered 48 FA-50s,” National Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak told local broadcaster Radio Dla Ciebie last month. “But it is not enough, we need at least two more squadrons of … multi-role aircraft. What kind of aircraft will they be? We are working on this.”
In line with many other countries across the region, Poland has boosted its efforts to buy new gear for the nation’s armed forces in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which began in February 2022.
Local defense experts have pointed out that for the Polish air force to secure sufficient operational capabilities, its pilots must be capable of countering Russian Sukhoi Su-34 fighter bombers and Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets. That puts aircraft designed to establish air superiority on top of the wish list.
In that category, “realistically, only two options are available on the market,” Tomasz Smura, program director at the Warsaw-based Casimir Pulaski Foundation, told Defense News. He was referring to the Eurofighter Typhoon, manufactured by a European consortium jointly run by Airbus, BAE Systems UK and Italy’s Leonardo, and the F-15EX Eagle II, made by Boeing.”
Boeing, for its part, is using the promise of air superiority, which neither side has in Ukraine, as a selling point for its offering. Tim Flood, the company’s senior director for global business development for Europe and Americas, told Defense News at last month’s DSEI defense expo in London that the need to control the skies is “one of the lessons from the war in Ukraine.”
Should Poland decide to acquire F-15EX fighters for its armed forces, the aircraft could become a “perfect combination with the F-35s,” according to Flood.
The American aircraft has a good shot given Poland’s procurement history of preferring U.S.-made systems and the political ties that they bring, though the possibility of a more pro-European Polish government following Sunday’s national election could change that calculus.
Earlier this year, the country placed orders for 116 M1A1 Abrams tanks as part of a deal nearing $1.4 billion, on top of an earlier purchase of 250 M1A2 Abrams tanks. Additionally, in August, Washington approved the sale of 96 AH-64E Apache helicopters to Poland for an estimated $12 billion.
“Regarding previous procurement decisions and the fact that the Polish government is keen on U.S. cooperation, I would rather consider the F-15 as a front runner,” Smura said.
Competing against the American defense giant is the Eurofighter. The manufacturer consortium has been marketing the aircraft in Poland for over half a decade without much chance previously, but the situation may change as the Polish government appears to be ready to pick a fighter.
Speaking at the Polish Radom Air Show 2023 in August, Costa Panvinirosati, head of marketing for Eurofighter at Leonardo, said the country represented “a really good” opportunity for future sales of the aircraft.
The company appears to be banking on its existing ties with Warsaw and potential benefits a European fighter could offer over a U.S. one. The country already operates sixteen M-346s, the second largest fleet of Leonardo’s jet trainers in Europe.
“Leonardo is often seen as an Italian defense company, but in fact has had a large presence in Poland for many years. It has around 3,000 employees there and this level is increasing thanks to new programs, like the AW149 helicopter that will be produced here,” Panvinirosati was quoted as saying in a press release.
Smura agrees that the Eurofighter may be more interesting from an industrial point of view for Poland, as “Europeans are usually more open for the transfer of technology, and it could facilitate cooperation over future projects like the Tempest.”
Leonardo was unavailable to comment on its Polish campaign and whether any formal bid would entail local production of some components of the Eurofigher.
Jaroslaw Adamowski is the Poland correspondent for Defense News.
Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.