Amid beefed up security cooperation, Poland inks contract for US-made F-35 fighter jets

Polish President Andrzej Duda attends a ceremony of signing of a contract with Lockheed Martin for the purchase of 32 Lockheed Martin F-35 combat aircraft worth USD 4.6 bln, in Deblin, eastern Poland, 31 January 2020. [EPA-EFE/WOJTEK JARGILO]

Poland signed a $4.6 billion deal with the United States on Friday (31 January) for the purchase of 32 F-35A Lightning II fighter jets, which Polish officials called a significant step toward strengthening the security of the country and the region.

Warsaw has long been expected to buy the jets, which are hardly detectable for radars, as part of efforts to enhance air defence on NATO’s eastern flank in the face of renewed Russian assertiveness in Eastern Europe.

Speaking at the signing ceremony at an airbase in Dęblin, Polish President Andrzej Duda said it was an “exceptionally important day for Poland’s air force and for the security of Poland and of our part of Europe.”

Duda said it was among the biggest deals in the history of Poland’s armed forces and also a sign of the strength of relations with the US.

The purchase will make Poland the 10th NATO member to operate F-35 fighter jets.

Poland’s defence minister Mariusz Błaszczak, speaking alongside Duda, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and US Ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher, said the acquisition will enable the Polish military to make a technological leap.

“Today, through the signing of the F-35 deal, the air force is entering a new phase of its development,” Błaszczak said. The Polish army is still operating mostly post-Soviet aircraft.

The contract includes a training and logistics package with the purchase of unmanned reconnaissance drones.

According to the supplier, the first six of the ordered aircraft are meant to arrive at one of Poland’s American air bases in 2024-2025, to be used to train Polish pilots.

It is the second-most expensive acquisition of high-technology military equipment by the Polish Armed Forces after the $4.7 billion deal for the Patriot surface-to-air missile system signed in March 2018.

“This is the result of very good relations between President Andrzej Duda and US President Donald Trump,” Błaszczak added.

Since the conservative PiS (Law and Justice) government came to power in Warsaw, Poland had presented a vast plan to modernise its army and revived the calls for a permanent US base in the country with “boots on the ground”.

The plan, dubbed ‘Fort Trump’, is an unabashed attempt to entice Trump into beefing up the US military presence in Poland to help counter potential Russian aggression.

Warsaw traditionally prefers to purchase defence equipment from Washington rather than Europe, largely renouncing to the integration of the European defence industry.

The Polish standpoint clashes with the position of France, which advocates for more European cooperation projects in the field, effectively aiming to boost their own domestic defence industry.

Eyeing increased US presence in the region, Poland revamps military spending

Poland’s Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak announced on Thursday (28 February) that by 2026 Warsaw would spend around €43 billion euros on modernising the Polish armed forces. 

During Duda’s visit to Washington last summer, Trump announced he will send 1,000 more troops to Poland to counter Russia, while criticising Germany for making itself a “hostage” to Moscow by over-relying on Russian energy supplies.

Details of the troop boost were thin but they fell far short of Poland’s long-running hope for a permanent major US military base.

It was also during the two president’s meeting last June, when an F-35 performed a flyover of the White House as Duda met with Trump to showcase the aircraft in advance of the planned buy, that the deal over ordering the F-35 combat aircraft was inked.

“F-35 is a sky-high armament that is to serve the Polish armed forces and NATO forces to protect in particular the eastern flank,” said Morawiecki.

“We are joining this elite group of countries that will be able to use the most modern equipment and the most modern technologies,” he added.

Mosbacher said the purchase was “proof of the strength of the Polish-American bond”. “This is not a transaction-based relationship, it is a friendship.”

“Poland and the United States are bound by generations of families and interpersonal ties that are easier to maintain now, because Poles can travel to the United States without visas,” she added.

In line with earlier announcements by both sides, the acquisition deal does not comprise a so-called offset agreement, which means that American companies will not have to invest in the country or make technology transfers in exchange.

Polish ministry officials have said the lack of offset decision helped Poland reduce the final price of Lockheed Martin’s fifth-generation fighters, with the US State Department approving the sale last September for a maximum price of $6.5 billion.

Still, in Poland itself, the high cost of the acquisition had been accompanied by a controversy between the government and the opposition parties, who said the money could have been better used for other defence purchases.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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