NATO member Poland is turning to the Asian powerhouse to find replacements for its aging Soviet-era fighter jets.

A South Korean Air Force FA-50 at the Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition 2021 on October 18, 2021.Chris Jung/Noor Photo via Getty Images

  • Poland recently signed a $14.5 billion deal with South Korea to buy artillery, tanks and aircraft.

  • It is one of Poland’s largest arms deals and the biggest ever for South Korea’s growing defense sector.

  • The deal comes as tensions in Europe add urgency to Poland’s military modernization plans.

On July 27, Poland signed its largest-ever arms deal for more artillery, tanks and aircraft to modernize its military amid rising tensions in Europe.

Warsaw’s $14.5 billion deal with South Korea — the largest ever for South Korea’s defense industry — includes 1,000 K2 Black Panther tanks, about 700 K9 self-propelled howitzers, and 48 FA-50 lighters. Warplanes included.

The size of the deal and Warsaw’s decision to buy from an emerging military exporter also reflect thinking influenced by the fraught state of European geopolitics.

“The criminal aggression by the Russian Federation, targeting Ukraine, and the unpredictable nature of Putin means that we need to accelerate the modernization of equipment,” Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczyk told Poland’s Out He said in an interview with Late Defense 24.

Faster, better, safer

South Korean FA-50 fighter jet

An FA-50 at Clark Air Base in the Philippines on November 28, 2015.TED ALJIBE/AFP via Getty Images

Rapidly modernizing Poland’s air force is a priority for Warsaw, which is seeking to replace its 23 MiG-29s and 18 Su-22s – aging Soviet-designed multi-role aircraft that are difficult to maintain. happening

Poland already produces 36 US-made F-16s and ordered 32 F-35A stealth jets from the US in 2020, but it is one of only three NATO countries with MiG-29s. is the only European country that still flies the Su-22. .

48 South Korean FA-50s will help Warsaw advance this modernization effort.

The FA-50 is a capable light fighter. It can reach supersonic speeds of Mach 1.5 and can carry a variety of bombs and air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles. According to Błaszczak, Poland will receive an improved Block 20 model that is compatible with NATO systems.

However, Poland chose the FA-50s not only for their combat capability but also for the speed with which they could be acquired. Warsaw looked at other aircraft, including the F-16, but none could deliver as fast.

“It is of key importance for Poland to raise the security level as soon as possible,” said the Polish defense minister. The Polish Air Force is set to receive the first 12 FA-50s by mid-2023.

Air Force B-52 Polish MiG-29 F-15E

24 February 2022 Polish MiG-29s and US Air Force F-15s with an American B-52H bomber.U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Zachary Wright

Further, the FA-50 is based on South Korea’s T-50 trainer and light combat aircraft, developed by Korea Aerospace Industries in collaboration with Lockheed Martin, which makes the F-16.

Therefore, the FA-50 shares design elements and components with the F-16, simplifying maintenance and pilot training.

“A pilot trained on the FA-50 needs only a few hours to start flying the F-16 by himself,” Błaszczak told Defense24. To train more pilots.”

An FA-50 maintenance and service facility will also be established in Poland by 2026, according to the agreement with South Korea. With this arrangement, Warsaw hopes to avoid supply chain and maintenance issues for its MiG-29s and Su-22s.

“Thanks to this purchase, we get a new direction for parts, which is especially important for high-intensity conflicts, when one of the supply chains may be disrupted,” said Błaszczak. “This will make it possible to maintain a high level of operational availability of combat aircraft in Poland.”

Time to renew

FA-50 fighter jet Philippines

An FA-50 at Clark Air Base north of Manila on July 4, 2017.REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Poland has upgraded its old Soviet-era jets several times to make its systems compatible with NATO, but keeping them combat-ready remains a challenge – especially with declining user numbers and sparing sanctions on Russia. Limit parts availability.

“We’ll need to get. [spares] in Russia, and for reasons that are obvious, needs to be rejected,” Błaszczak said, pointing to tensions with Moscow.

Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa manufactures MiG-29 components locally and maintains Poland’s MiG-20s and Su-22s. However, the firm cannot manufacture the MiG-29 engine. Further, locally made components were linked to a fatal MiG-29 crash in 2018 – which temporarily grounded Poland’s MiG-29 fleet – according to Błaszczak.

“This situation cannot happen again,” the minister told Defense24.

Polish Sukhoi Su-22 fighter jet

Polish Su-22s on September 21, 2017.Agencja Gazeta/Cezary Aszkielowicz via REUTERS

Polish Su-22s have also been in service for about 35 years and have a limited role.

Błaszczak said the two Soviet-era jets are “already obsolete.”

The defense minister said the FA-50s would further modernize Poland’s air force, but would not be the “last step”.

“We have accelerated the delivery of F-35s. In the long term, we are planning to purchase additional F-35s or F-15s, and we are working on the KF from our South Korean partners. Looking closely at the progress made.” 21 Borame,” Błaszczak said, referring to the new 4.5-generation multi-role fighter that South Korea hopes to market as a cheaper alternative to the F-35.

Constantine Atlamazoglou works on transatlantic and European security. He holds a Master’s degree in Security Studies and European Affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.

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