The United States Air Force will be sending six F-22 Raptors fighter jets to Poland to support NATO’s “air shielding” mission on its borders as Russia continues its aggression in Ukraine.
According to a statement from US Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa, the fifth-generation stealth fighter jets of the 90th Fighter Squadron recently landed in England from Alaska. They will soon soar to the skies towards the 32nd Tactical Air Base in Lask, Poland.
The “air shielding” mission is part of NATO’s initiative to bolster its eastern borders’ air and missile-defense capabilities and provide a shield “from the Baltic to the Black seas,” it added.
This is a follow-through from the Madrid Summit Declaration earlier this summer, attended by world leaders and convened to develop a new strategy for NATO’s “deterrence by reinforcement” model. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the new strategy is “the biggest overhaul [of] our collective defense since the end of the Cold War.”
Among the objectives this summit has tackled include 1) expanding its immediate measures in response to Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine and 2) aiming to develop a new strategic concept to drive alliance adaptation and modernization over the next decade.
The additional cushion on air defense in Eastern Europe is made apparent when Russia was seen targeting Ukrainian assets near the Polish borders throughout the invasion. The malintent includes “firing more than 30 rockets at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center in Yavoriv, just 15 miles from Poland,” Business Insider reported.
Poland’s military modernization initiatives
With its neighboring country facing the assault of Russia, Poland has been working double time on scaling up and upgrading its military munitions, equipment, and systems.
Even before the February 24 invasion, Polish officials pledged in the early summer of 2021 that they would “radically” increase their defense capabilities and amplify the nation’s strength of 250,000 armed forces as well as the ranks of its Territorial Defense Force (Wojska Obrony Terytorialnej or WOT) to 50,000.
Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak authorized this modernization plan with estimated funding of $133 billion from 2020 to 2035. Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, Warsaw managed to keep its finances flowing through bonds to achieve its ambitious military spending.
F-35 zwiększy zdolności bojowe Polskich Sił Powietrznych i sprawi, że amerykańskie i polskie siły zbrojne będą mogły współpracować jeszcze ściślej. pic.twitter.com/tpxtkmPJia
— US Embassy Warsaw (@USEmbassyWarsaw) January 31, 2020
Then, in mid-fall of that year, Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski announced that his government intended to raise defense spending to “significantly higher” levels, including the modernization of its military hardware.
The Polish government has long recognized the need to replace its decades-old combat system, which comprises most of its equipment. This is especially true for the Polish army and air force, which continue to operate Soviet-era war machines such as the T-72 and PT-91 (a T-72 variant) main battle tanks (MBTs), as well as the MiG-29 and Su-22 aircraft.
The Polish defense said that despite laying out a structured roadmap for the country’s military procurement programs since 2012, Poland has only been making slow, uneven progress in this acquisition phase. It also emphasized that while they have well-trained soldiers, without modern equipment, they will not be able to carry out their tasks properly.
Below is a quick rundown on all the military procurements since last year:
The Polish Army has had a slow pace in procuring new equipment over the last half-decade, making the capital impatient.
Subsequently, Warsaw acquired 250 American M1A2 MBTs in July last year, which was not part of the country’s original technical modernization plan.
Aside from tanks, they will also replace most, if not all, obsolete equipment, such as hundreds of BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles and BRDM-2 reconnaissance vehicles. So far, the army has received dozens of new Krab 155-mm self-propelled howitzers and Rak 120-mm self-propelled mortar systems, as mentioned here.
“A lot has been done in the field of modernization over the last four years. We bought, among others, the Patriot system, Himars launchers, helicopters from the plants in Mielec and Swidnik, and a whole range of modern equipment from the Polish defense industry. It is a fact that the condition of the Armed Forces, which we inherited from our predecessors, would have surprised anyone. The level of delays, incompetence, helplessness, and lack of interest in the PO-PSL’s prostitutes for years made the complicated modernization process we had to carry out even more difficult. Nevertheless, we manage it,” Blaszczak said.
Under a modernization plan, the Polish Navy will be changing its rusting fleet. In January 2021, they announced that two of their remaining Kobben-class conventional submarines, ORP Sep (295) and ORP Bielik (297), would be decommissioned.
Then, in July 2021, Warsaw selected a consortium led by the Polish Armaments Group (Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa) to be the shipbuilder for their three guided-missile frigates, which will be manufactured this year. Until then, the Polish Navy will continue to rely on its two coastal defense batteries, bought in 2015, alongside its dozens of Norwegian Kongsberg Naval Strike Missiles.
The Polish Air Force’s obsolete and rusted equipment is also a sight. With Russia’s alarming increase in air activity, the government pushed hard for additional and brand-new combat aircraft.
Among the procurement deals done to address this concern was a $4.6 billion signed agreement with the US to purchase several F-35A Joint Strike Fighter aircraft in 2020, with the first delivery arriving in 2024. After that, Poland is considering purchasing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to assist airmen.
Accordingly, Poland’s defense budget has spent “over two percent” of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) earlier this year alone and is expected to “grow further.”
Moreover, Warsaw has ordered two batteries of American MIM-104 Patriot air and missile defense to revitalize its ground-based air defense and is expecting them to arrive this year. In a seemingly last-minute decision, the Polish government also purchased 24 Turkish medium-range TB2 UAVs in May 2021—a procurement outside the scope of its initial modernization plan.
With all the expansions, Poland hopes to make its ambition come true and become the strongest military power in Central Europe. You can check out the rest of the technical modernization plans for Poland here.
South Korea’s speedy delivery to Poland
Aside from obtaining the F-22 Raptors, Poland has recently signed a framework deal with South Korea—their biggest spend yet, with over 1,600 tanks, howitzers, and nearly 50 South Korean-made fighter jets.
The Republic of South Korea (ROK) will also supply variants of K2 Black Pather tanks and K9 Thunder, a self-propelled howitzer manufactured by Hyundai Rotem and Hanwha Defense, respectively.
According to Blaszczak, ROK is set to make the first delivery of the following equipment this year, including 180 tanks and 48 howitzers. A second stage will include over 800 tanks and 600 howitzers, while the rest will be produced locally in 2026, the target date for Hanhwa Defense to open its Poland branch.
On the other hand, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) will manufacture and deliver the first FA-50 jets sometime in mid-2023. The FA-50 is ROK’s first indigenous supersonic aircraft, developed in collaboration with Lockheed Martin and was first commissioned in the early 2000s. It is a light combat aircraft, a muted version of the T-50 Golden Eagle, that can also be used in advanced jet training.
The “size and speed of the multibillion-dollar deal” surprised some analysts, given that Poland has also been acquiring US Abrams tanks and is requesting additional Leopard tanks from Germany.
Blaszczak said that the reluctance and pace of other countries in delivering their demand had opened doors for South Korea.
“It is extremely important that the first deliveries of howitzers and tanks will take place this year,” the defense minister said at the signing event on Wednesday.