Polish Air Force and Air Defense Converts Into the Future
By Ryszard Jaxa-Malachowski,
AWN Central European Correspondent
The air arm of the Polish armed forces is undergoing an intensive conversion to become compatible with NATO standards. The Polish Air Force headquarters has already been reorganized and the head of staff General Leszek Duleba has only a single deputy, unlike his predecessor who had four deputies and even more specialized duties.
The structure of the air force has also been simplified. There are two Air Defence Corps with headquarters at Bydgoszcz and Wroclaw. Deblin Aviation Academy is a single entity and a limited number of units remain independents and are subordinated directly to Gen. Duleba. Those consist of four training centers, Central Commanding Station, two regiments specialized in radiosurveilance and electronic warfare and VIP transport regiment. All those units will witness limited changes as will Deblin Academy, however difficult job lies ahead for the AD Corpses. According to the plan there will be 69 operational units disbanded, 25 newly created while 29 will have to deeply converted by 2004. Luckily only four units will have to be relocated. Manpower will drop from current 49,000 to less than 43,000.
Till the end of 1999, the basic operational aviation unit kept the form of regiment. However its size was much smaller than before. Now squadrons replace regiments with 18 operational aircraft. The former regiments used to contain all ground infrastructures but this is left hanging with the creation of Air Force Bases. As in other NATO countries, air force bases should be able to serve all aircraft and helicopters remaining in the inventory.
The very first such conversion took place at Swidwin where the 8th Fighter-Bomber Regiment, which belongs to 2nd ADC, was replaced by the 39th and 40th Tactical Squadrons (TS) and Air Base. This was followed by 7th Bomber-Reconnaissance Regiment of Powidz, and the 6th and 7th TS's and the 8th regiment at Miroslawiec converted into 8th Squadron. All mentioned units operate heavy Su-22s and form two tactical brigades.
Soon all fighter regiments will see the same process. The 1st Regiment at Minsk Mazowiecki will become the 1st Tactical Squadron, the 41st Regiment at Malbork will be named 41st TS while at Krzesiny 3rd TS will appear, 9th TS at Zegrze Pomorskie and 10th at Lask. The 1st and 41st Squadrons will form the 3rd Tactical Air Brigade commanded from Malbork, while three remaining units will join two already existing brigades.
The two liaison squadrons 2nd at Bydgoszcz and 3rd in Wroclaw are already operational and two transport units, 13th at Krakow and 36th (VIP), will be created on the existing regiments.
The Deblin Aviation Academy is to be reorganized to allow its trainees to meet NATO's standards. Also the civilian students are to be allowed to attend courses for commercial pilots, however the most ambitious project is to set up the Central European Aviation Training Center.
The concept has its strong potential background as a number of countries, with Czech Republic and Hungary in the front line, do not have their own academies and would be interested in using Deblin themselves. The currently operational four training regiments will remain at their locations and will be converted into training squadrons. The logistics will be supplied by the newly created 6th Air Base with four airfields under supervision.
The major problem for the Polish Air Force is lack of equipment. Only some 100 aircraft are modern: the 22 MiG-29s and 85 Su-22s. The rest are the old MiG-21 models bis, MF and R.
Last year, the regiment operating MiG-23s was disband and its aircraft grounded due to very high costs of maintenance. With that the country lost over 20 relatively modern fighters. The 21s will be grounded within the next four years making the need for new multirole fighter start to be more drastic. But Poland's economy does not allow such investment and the situation will not improve earlier than around 2005.
An optional solution is deep and real modernization of the MiG-29s and Su-22s, or leasing. The latter solution, along with the purchase of second-hand aircraft, was found non-cost effective, so modernization seems to be the only way.
Despite any solutions that may be undertaken, some units may temporarily lose operational status for up to two years.
The immediate need is estimated for 60 aircraft, with the total requirement at 150-180 modern multirole fighters. But lower levels are possible, too. Much will depend on the newly prepared Polish Armed Forces Development Program, which will define changes in the services till year 2006.
PAF and AD needs new equipment to complete its modernization. The necessary Request For Information was issued to five different manufacturers (Boeing, Dassault, Eurofighter, Lockheed Martin, Saab/BAE Systems). The Request For Proposal was expected to be announced in the third quarter of last year, but so far nothing has happened.
A concept favoring old F-16s has been popular with Lockheed's lobby, which was promising new JSFs around 2010. This came under fire from experts who argued that aircraft stored in the Arizona desert are not exactly cheap, and the JSF will not be available for Poland at the suggested date. This would lead to additional costs in used equipment until the JSFs became available making whole project very expensive.
Regardless, the upgrade of existing equipment seems to be urgently required. General Duleba's problems include more than the lack of fighters. There is also trimming the fleet of old TS-11s and transport aircraft requiring immediate replacement. VIP jets are also needed. Limited support may come from PZL Mielec, which is to supply 18 PZL Bryzas, but those will replace only the lightest flank not covered by historically looking An-2s.
Much will happen on the ground as well. Polish representatives signed garrets at NATO headquarters in Brussels recently that enables the installation of three modern 3-D radars to be connected to NATO early warning systems.
Financing for those three radars is to come from the NATO budget, but simultaneously Poland will invest in three similar radars and will make investment on its own cost. The new system will be able to detect aircraft and ballistic missiles for a distance of 700 km. This effort is bringing Poland closer to NATO standards but a number of problems still exist. Some of them seem to be crucial to the future of the Polish Air Force and Air Defense.
The radar systems mentioned above are to be selected in a tender announced later this year. The three additional ones financed independently by Poland are to be new 3-D N-12M stations supplied by Warsaw based PIT. The earlier models known as N-12 are already in service and will be connected to the system, too. All six stations will be built with use of NATO funds and next year the aerial surveillance cover will be proof over the Northeast flank of the Pact.
A limited number of Wolchow systems will be kept in service to fill up equipment niche before new SAMs are available. The only available long distance SAMs are S-200 Wegas. Those large missiles are lacking maneuverability but are still able to reach their target. Conversion to the mobile units was found to expensive but Wegas are to see limited upgrade improving their self defense against electronic warfare.
As with the air force, air defense also requires new weaponry. New SAMs are required to protect country against cruise and tactical ballistic missiles like Scuds. The purchase of a few batteries of those has already been initiated, but again the general lack of funds has effectively postponed the process.
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