WASHINGTON: In a move aimed at substantially boosting Poland’s air power, the State Department signed off today on the $6.5 billion sale of 32 F-35s to the country.
The deal, which is unlikely to face opposition in Congress, would eventually replace the entire fleet of Warsaw’s Soviet-era Su-22 and MiG-29s with the American fifth-generation fighter, giving Poland a major upgrade and a more modern partner for the 48 US-made F-16C/Ds it currently flies.
The eventual deliverery of the stealthy aircraft would also give Warsaw more control over its own airspace, which currently sits within Russian radar and missile range from its exclave of Kaliningrad, along with integrating the country’s air wing with fellow NATO countries who are buying hundreds of F-35s in coming years.
Lockheed execs have said they expect to have 500 F-35s in Europe by 2030, part of a massive flow of the fifth-gen fighter to the continent. Poland will receive aircraft with Block 4 software, allowing each plane to carry six missiles internally, an upgrade from the original four.
The deal comes as Polish President Andrzej Duda has pushed to form a closer relationship with the US, particularly with President Trump. Duda is a fellow traveler when it comes to core issues like opposition to immigration, a distrust of the European Union, and calling into question large, multinational agreements and treaties.
Duda was given the star treatment in June when he visited the White House, where he agreed with President Trump to establish six small bases spread across Poland to house US troops, along with the announcement of about 1,000 more soldiers to roll through the country on a rotational basis. They’ll join the 4,500 US troops already in Poland.
The pact also established the logistical groundwork for quickly deploying a heavy armored division, 12,000 to 20,000 troops, for a crisis or a major exercise, along with plans to set up a division headquarters, and an Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone squadron, among other things that equal a far more robust US presence in Poland than anything seen previously.
Duda’s government has also won praise at the White House and the Pentagon for meeting the NATO aspirational goal of each country spending at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense — accomplished in part by laying down huge chunks of money for US gear.
In 2018, Poland agreed to buy 20 HIMARS rocket launchers for $414 million and inked the largest arms deal in its history — slapping down $4.7 billion for the Patriot missile system. Additionally, a second Aegis Ashore radar system is set to become operational next year, joining the Aegis site already active in Romania.
The Patriot deal included clauses where Lockheed, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman agreed to offsets worth about $280 million, but it’s unlikely any such agreement will be reached on the F-35s, as production agreements with participating countries have been closed for years.
The deals come, however, as the Trump administration has directed the Pentagon to cancel billions worth of US military construction projects throughout Europe to pay for the border wall, with about $130 million worth of projects planned in Poland being on the list.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper, traveling in Europe last week, delivered a blunt message to allies about the pulling of US-funded military infrastructure projects. Asked by reporters what his message to NATO allies was about the decrease, he said, “if you’re really concerned then maybe you should look to cover those projects for us, because that’s going to build infrastructure in many cases in their countries…maybe pick up that tab.”