Written by Colonel S. Kirillov; Originally appeared at Foreign Military Review 2020 #1; Translated by Monalita exclusively for SouthFront
Poland’s air force is a type of armed force that is designed to protect the country’s air space and its infrastructure on the ground, to conduct air operations, provide air support to ground and naval forces, carry out air reconnaissance and the transfer of forces and military equipment.
The following tasks are assigned to the republic’s air force:
- providing control to the airspace and protecting state borders;
- deflecting aggression in the airspace and protecting any government and military headquarters, administrative-political centers, industrial and economic districts, the most important economic facilities and the country’s infrastructure, as well as national and coalition groups of troops (forces) from adversary airstrikes;
- achieving and subsequently retaining airspace superiority
- isolating combat areas (A2/AD, of sorts)
- Participating in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations under the auspices of international organizations
- air reconnaissance and electronic warfare
- conducting search and rescue operations.
The basic documents under which the Polish Air Force carries out its primary functions are the Strategic Concept of The Polish Armed Forces Model 2032, The Armed Forces Construction Plan and the AF Technical Modernization Plan. These documents are in force through to 2026.
At the same time, special attention is paid to maintaining combat and mobilization readiness of Air Force formations and units, increasing operational compatibility with the United Air Force of NATO, conducting combat training when taking into account new challenges and threats to national security, technical modernization of the aviation fleet, as well as improvements of the ground infrastructure.
The administrative leadership commands the forces and resources of the Air Force and is subordinate to the main command of the armed forces (Warsaw), it is also responsible for maintaining the required level of combat readiness of the subordinate forces, facilitating their combat training as well as acquisition of their connections, units and personnel, as well as weapons and military equipment.
The Air Force’s operational management is entrusted to the Armed Forces’ operational command (Warsaw), which includes the Air Operations Center – the primary organizational and planning body when it comes to Air Force combat.
In peacetime, duty forces as well as units that are allocated for participation in international missions and operations are operationally subordinate to the Center. The AOC organizes radio, radio- technical and radar reconnaissance and controls air traffic over the republic’s territory.
As part of the ongoing reorganization of the Polish Armed Forces command and control system in 2020, there are plans for the Air Force Command to be reassigned to the General Staff of the Armed Forces with a goal of increasing the effectiveness of the operation of the air force control system in peacetime and wartime.
The Air Force command has four wings (two tactical, transport and training aviation), two brigades (anti-aircraft missile and radio engineering), electronic warfare and teleinformation support centers, airspace control and air traffic control, an Air Force training center, an aviation engineering center, as well as the school for junior aviation specialists.
In addition, the Naval Aviation Brigade of the Navy (Gdynia-Babi Doly), the 1st Army Aviation Brigade of the Army Aviation (Inowroclaw), as well as helicopter units of the 25th separate airborne assault brigade (Tomaszow-Mazowiecki) are all subordinate when it comes to issues regarding the organization of operational and combat training of the Air Force.
The air formations, units and subunits are the basis of the Air Force. They carry out tasks to protect the country’s airspace and ground infrastructure facilities, conduct air operations, provide air support for ground forces and naval forces, conduct air reconnaissance, as well as transfer of forces and military equipment. The highest organizational unit of the Polish Air Force aviation is a wing – a tactical formation, to which aviation units and subunits are subordinated.
The anti-aircraft missile forces provide the country’s air defense, which is integrated into the joint NATO air defense system.
In cooperation with fighter aircraft, the air defense missile systems provide air strike cover for important administrative centers, industrial and economic regions, troop positions and other locations. Organizationally, they are represented by the 3rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade (Belice), which is a tactical air defense unit.
The radio-technical troops are a key component of the ground Air Force intelligence system. The strength and resources of Radio-technical troops were pooled together into the 3rd radio engineering brigade (Wroclaw).
The number of Air Force personnel sits at approximately 19,000 people, which, after a mobilization deployment, can be increased to 35,000.
The Polish Air Force is armed with: combat aircraft – 110 units (tactical fighters F-16, MiG-29, fighter-bombers Su-22); auxiliary aviation – 120 (military transport – 50, training – 70); multipurpose helicopters – 90 (combat – 50, auxiliary – 40); SAM launchers – 110; reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicles.
A significant part of the Air Force’s weapons and military technology is deemed “morally obsolete” and must be replaced with modern models. This mainly concerns arms and military equipment of Russian (Soviet) production. In particular, according to Polish military experts, the MiG-29 tactical fighters have a combat readiness factor of 0.5, which does not meet NATO requirements. This is due to the long service life of this type of aircraft and its difficulty in procuring spare parts and components due to the curtailment of military-technical cooperation with Russia in 2014.
The 1st wing units of tactical aviation have the highest accident rate in the Air Force. In the period from 2017 to 2019, three MiG-29 fighters were irretrievably lost (two accidents and one disaster).
The Su-22 fighter-bombers have actually served their set service life. At the same time, the Ministry of Defense regularly extends its resources for the existing aircraft which is due to the lack of funds for purchasing a new combat aircraft.
The “Technical Modernization Plan of the Polish Armed Forces for 2017-2026” involves the purchase of 32 modern tactical fighters (the “Harpia” program).
For these goals, the Ministry of Defense plans to allocate over $5 billion, which includes the costs of training flight and engineering personnel. Warsaw is considering the American company Lockheed Martin as a potential supplier, with whom it is negotiating the purchase of F-35 Lightning-2 aircraft.
Much attention is paid to the reequipment of the aircraft fleet-in-training. Contracts have been signed with the Italian company Leonardo for the purchase of M-346 training aircraft as well as with the Polish military-industrial complex PZL Warsaw-Okecie for the modernization of the Orlik PZL-130 training aircraft.
One of the areas of priority in technical modernization of the Polish Air Force is the replacement of outdated air defense systems of Russian (Soviet) production – long-range S-200 “Vega”, medium-range “Krug” and short-range “Neva”. In accordance with the plans for the rearmament of the Armed Forces, the basis of the national air defense system in the future will be the Patriot long-range anti-aircraft missile systems (the Vistula program).
For that purpose, in 2018 the country’s Ministry of Defense entered into agreements with the American companies Raytheon, Northrop-Grumman and Lockheed Martin for the purchase of two batteries of the Patriot air defense system (16 launchers, an IBCS automated control system, four sectoral radars AN / MPQ-65, 208 PAK-3 MSE anti-aircraft missiles), including training combat crews and technical specialists for the maintenance of those systems.
The contract is valued at about $5 billion. The delivery of Patriot anti-aircraft missile systems to the republic is scheduled for 2022, and their deployment for combat duty is scheduled for 2024.
Along with the renewal of the aircraft fleet, the Air Force command pays attention to issues of combat support, primarily reconnaissance.
In particular, in 2018, the Ministry of Defense signed a number of contracts with enterprises of the national military-industrial complex for the purchase of reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) of various classes. The delivery of eight such sets (a total of 40 aircraft) is planned in 2021-2023, and an additional four sets (20 devices) – in 2023-2026. The equipment will enter service with the 12th UAV base (Miroslavets) of the 1st wing of the tactical aviation of the Air Force.
In addition, Poland is participating in the project RQ-4 “Global Hawk” for the purchase of unmanned aerial vehicles for operational and strategic purposes as part of the NATO air reconnaissance system “AGS” on the ground.
The main forms of the country’s Air Force Operational Combat Training are: command-staff, aviation and joint exercises, combat readiness checks and special trainings that vary in scale, goals, objectives and participants, as well as conferences, seminars and gatherings of the leadership team.
In the course of these events, the main efforts are directed toward a comprehensive check and the drawing up of a practical plan for the aviation’s use of combat, anti-aircraft missile and radio-technical troops, maintaining a high level of combat readiness of aviation formations and improving crew flight training.
Considerable attention is paid to a preparedness to counteract a surprise attack by an air enemy, interaction with NATO allies in planning and conducting operations abroad, as well as using aviation as part of coalition groupings of forces.
To solve these problems, the republic’s Air Force forces and resources take part in national and coalition activities of operational and combat training on a regular basis. Among the most significant exercises are Tiger Meat, Frisian Flag, Siil, Anaconda and Aviation Detection.
The low level of combat readiness of the Russian (Soviet) MiG-29 and Su-22 aircraft, the maintenance of which is difficult due to Warsaw’s curtailment of military-technical cooperation with the Russian Federation, has a negative impact on the implementation of the Operational Combat Training plan of the Polish Air Force.
The airfields of Demblin, Lask, Malbork, Powidz, Poznan-Kshesiny, and Svidvin are used to base the Air Force aircraft on the territory of Poland. Currently, they are being modernized to ensure the reception of various types of present-day combat and auxiliary aircraft, which are in active service with the armed forces of the NATO countries. In addition, there are more than 150 airfields of various classes, including civilian ones, of which 95 are suitable for use in the interests of military and military transport aviation, including 65 airfields with capital runways (17 – 1st and 48 – 2- class). Also, there are 20 sections of highways that are prepared for the intended use by military aircraft as a runway. Four civil airports in the cities of Warsaw, Wroclaw, Krakow and Poznan have been adapted to receive military transport aircraft. Additionally, the airfields of sports aviation clubs which are evenly dispersed throughout the territory of the republic can be utilized for the benefit of the Air Force.
Thus, the Polish leadership is currently carrying out measures to reorganize and conduct technical re-equipment of the air force in order to increase their combat effectiveness and bring them in line with NATO standards. In medium terms, the successful implementation of the reform and rearmament programs by the Polish command will make it possible to ensure the effective implementation of the Air Force’s airspace protection goals at the national and coalition levels.
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