The Technical Modernization Program of the Polish Armed Forces (PMT) will focus on the F-16C/D Block 52+ currently in service. 48 of ‘Fighting Falcons’ were delivered to Poland in 2006 as a part of overall modernization to fit the Polish Army into NATO. The aircraft, however, have not had any sort of upgrades since their delivery, besides the purchases of new armaments like the JASSM cruise missiles.
The Ministry of Defense had previously decided not to purchase a new variant of F-16 – Block 70/72 with parallel modernization of already introduced Block 52+ jets. The MoD insisted on buying 32 new F-35A multirole fighters but their introduction to the Polish Air Force (PAF) will bring a new operational environment for F-16s as well.
In order to function in this new environment and exchange data with F-35s, the PAF’s F-16s should be equipped with an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Radars system. However, the Ministry of Defense are still considering a purchase of 2 squadrons of new F-16s to increase the number of combat aircraft in service. According to Defence24, the modernization of Block 52+ jets is in fact a part of the new PMT. The extent of the upgrades planned is not yet known.
Whether the F-16s receive their Mid Life Upgrade or other modernization is yet to be considered, but the introduction of new F-35A will likely force the Ministry of Defense to take necessary steps in order to expand the combat capabilities of the PAF with the use of both types of aircraft. But besides the additional purchases of F-16s and F-35s PAF still has a fleet of Su-22M4 attack aircraft and MiG-29 jet fighters that require significant upgrades to unify the platforms used within the PAF. The outdated, post-Soviet planes account for nearly a half of all combat aircraft currently in service, and with each year become more obsolete, becoming a danger to the pilots. Poor maintenance of MiG-29s resulted in a lose of 4 jets and the deaths of 2 pilots within the last decade.
While the Polish Ministry of Defence known from some impulsive and sometimes ill-considered purchase plans new investment in aircraft is desperately needed. It remains to be seen what form the plan to replace the legacy Russian aircraft still in service will take but the upgrade of Poland’s F-16s for operation alongside future F-35 squadrons is a wise investment.