Friday, October 22, 2021

Inevitable ‘Clash’ Of F-35 Stealth Jets With S-400 Missiles As Poland To Station Its US-Origin Jets Near Russian Border?

Poland signed a $4.6 billion contract with the US to acquire 32 F-35A stealth fighter jets in January 2020 as part of its ‘Harpia’ (harpy eagle) program to replace the Soviet-era Su-22 and MiG-29 aircraft.  

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Surprisingly, during the 29th MSPO defense expo held at Kielce in Poland last month, JR McDonald, Lockheed’s vice president of business development for the integrated fighter group, mentioned a probable location for the second Polish Air Force F-35A squadron in the north-western region of the country, not far from the Russian border.  

The US had approved to provide a Total Package Approach that not only included delivery of the 32 aircraft, but also provided aircraft, pilot and maintenance support training; advanced flight simulators, and ongoing aircraft maintenance; and a robust logistics support system equally shared with other F-35 partner nations.

Close To Russian Border 

While the deliveries are expected to begin in 2024, the most likely spot for the F-35 squadron recently indicated by the Lockheed Martin official is the 21st Tactical Air Base “Maj Stefan Stec” in Świdwin.

F-35
Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jets. (via Twitter)

And Świdwin happens to be roughly 410 km away from Kaliningrad – the Russian base where both 9K720 Iskander (SS-26 Stone) mobile short-range ballistic missile systems and S-400 Triumf (SA-21 Growler) air defense systems are deployed.

The EurAsian Times had outlined the awe-inspiring features of the S-400s which could be a “game-changer” for any military. With a range of detection that extends to as far as 600 km, the S-400 defense system is highly mobile and can be prepared in a matter of minutes to execute a strike.

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All the radars, missiles, and launchers of the S-400 are positioned on 8×8 cross-country trucks, making them challenging to be tracked and destroyed. It is furnished with a 92N6E electronically-steered phased array radar that can detect 300 targets concurrently and fire four different missile types at them based on the threat and range.

Currently, Świdwin houses a dozen of aging Russian-made Su-22M4 Fitters and six Su-22UM3K Trainers of the Polish Airforce. And according to reports, Warsaw plans to keep the Fitters in inventory until 2025, in order to retain skilled pilots and technicians.

It is not clear if the plan would be to move personnel from Świdwin to supporting the F-35 upon retirement, or if they would be transferred to other bases.” 

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The Russian jets present at the Świdwin airbase are used to train new pilots and provide training to the traditional Air Force, Polish Special Forces JTAC, and Air Defence Unit training. 

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The Russian S-400 Triumf air defense system.

While the proposed F-35 squadron’s proximity to the Russian defense system is quite surprising, the fact remains that all Polish Air Force bases are situated within the range of Russian missiles.

Once part of the Soviet communist bloc, Poland became a full-fledged member of the US-led NATO in 1999. The two nations, Russia and Poland, currently do not share very amicable relations.  

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Besides sharing proximity with Russia, Świdwin lies just 60 km away from the Baltic Sea which has till now enabled the Polish to participate in the NATO exercises conducted in the region. Some of which include Baltops, Astral Knight, or Spring Storm. 

The 2020 contract signed by Warsaw plans to replace the Polish Air Force’s outdated Soviet-designed Sukhoi Su-22 and Mikoyan MiG-29 jets with new fifth-generation jets.

The first batch of the Polish F-35 fifth-generation multi-role fighters also called Lightning II will be based at the 32nd Tactical Air Base in Łask and is said to be delivered by 2024-2025.

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The second batch of aircraft is estimated to be delivered in 2026-2027, with Initial Operational Capability by 2026, and a fully stood up squadron there by 2030.

According to Gen. Tod D. Wolters, Commander, US European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, by 2030, NATO will have 450 F-35s, based at 12 locations across Europe.

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