The United States is working with Poland on the transfer of fighter planes to Ukraine as the Russian invasion continues to edge closer to its capital Kyiv and other large cities.  The Polish air force operates about 288 aircraft of various types with about 90 fighters in its inventory.  Poland operates two air superiority fighters, 23 Mig-29 Fulcrums,  36 General Dynamics F-16F Falcon, and 23 Sukoi SU-22M Fitter fighter/bombers which are relics of the late 1960s.

In 2020, Poland was approved for the purchase of 32 Lockheed Martin F-35 fighters in a $4.6 billion deal.  The first of these jets were to be delivered in 2024.  In considering the transfer, Poland is seeking assurances from the U.S. that it will allow them to replace any jets sent to Ukraine with new jets from the U.S.

Presumably, the jets Poland intends to transfer will be its 23 Mig-29 Fulcrums and perhaps its SU-22Ms.

Polish air force Mig-29 Fulcrum. Jim van de Burgt from Wijk bij Duurstede, Netherlands. Creative Commons Zero, Public Domain Dedication

The Fulcrum was the first of Russia’s Fourth Generation fighters meant as a counter for the F-15 Eagle air superiority fighter.  At the time of its introduction in 1982, it was able to turn tighter than any NATO fighter and was armed with the very best air-to-air missiles the Soviet Union could produce.  The design had its shortcomings however in that is electronics and avionics packages were simple and it would have a much shorter service life and shorter-range compared to American fighters.

The Mig-29 has seven external hardpoints for weapons, allowing it to carry two medium-range air to air missiles and six short-range missiles. It can also be configured to carry four unguided rocket pods or up to 3,000kg of iron bombs.  Its internal 30mm cannon has 150 rounds of ammunition.  The Fulcrum is unable to drop smart munitions as it lacks the optical and laser designation hardware needed to employ precision-guided weapons.

Today both the Russians and Ukrainians operate the Mig-29 though it is well past its expiration date in terms of it being a modern fighter. Even with upgrades to its electronics and missiles, the short-range and maintenance hours needed to keep them in the air mean that it will spend lots of time on the ground where it is vulnerable to being hit by long-range missiles. Ukraine had some 90 Mig-29s in their inventory when the war started and an unknown number were destroyed on the ground by Russia in the early hours of the war.

Beyond the transfer of the aircraft themselves, Poland would also have to include any spare engines, equipment, tools, and spare parts they have in order for Ukraine to keep the aircraft flying once they receive them. Ukraine would also need any air-to-air missiles, rocket pods, and other weapons load-outs that Poland has in inventory.

Since Poland’s Mig-29s were “leased” to them by Germany, they will have to approve the transfer as well and will be seeking compensation from Poland for the jets going to Ukraine to pay for any not returned because they are destroyed in combat or on the ground.