The State Department officially informed the Congress of its intention to proceed with the sale of 32 F-35A fighter jets to Poland.
The contract would include 35 Lockheed Martin F-35A fighter jets (the conventional takeoff and landing variant of the aircraft), 33 Pratt & Whitney F-135 engines, as well as electronic warfare, weapons, and navigation systems, training, and support equipment. The total cost is estimated at $6.5 billion. “This proposed sale of F-35s will provide Poland with a credible air-to-air and air-to-ground self-defense capability to deter aggression in the region,” says the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. U.S. Congress now has 30 days to oppose the sale.
Poland’s decision to acquire the F-35 had been confirmed on June 13, 2019, by President of the United States Donald Trump, as part of a larger deal that will see the U.S. strengthen their defense relationship with the EU member state. The F-35 should replace the MiG-29 and Su-22 fighters within the Polish Air Force. The first aircraft should be delivered in 2024, with a first squadron to be operational by 2026.
Poland may inherit Turkey’s industrial position within the Joint Strike Fighter program, with state-owned defense company Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa (PGZ) as a likely partner. Indeed, the new contract comes shortly after the U.S. authorities began the process of excluding Turkey from the F-35 program due to its decision to acquire the Russian S-400 air defense system. Russia has since reacted by offering Turkey to buy its Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets instead.
The choice of Poland did not come as a surprise. Since it started its program to acquire a new fighter aircraft (Harpia program), officials of the country voiced their preference for a 5th generation fighter, thus leaving no doubt on their coming decision as the F-35 was the only aircraft of this generation in the competition. Other candidates were Boeing with its F/A-19 Advanced Super Hornet, Leonardo representing Eurofighter with the Typhoon, Saab and the Gripen E/F, as well as the company Fights-On Logistic which offered second-hand F-16 jets.