Poland signed a $4.6 billion deal with the United States on Friday for the purchase of 32 of its most advanced fighter jets to enhance air defense on NATO’s eastern flank at a time of increased Russian military activity.
Polish President Andrzej Duda said it was an “exceptionally important day for Poland’s air force and the security of Poland and our part of Europe.” 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 U.S., Duda said.
After purchasing American Patriot missile systems, and High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), this next big investment, “will also contribute to significantly strengthening Polish-American relations,” Duda said at the contract signing ceremony.
Poland, as a NATO ally, fulfills its obligations and takes seriously Article 5 of the NATO Treaty—whereby all members consider an attack against one ally as an attack on all allies. Poland also proved its commitment to “the NATO 360 degrees principle—the principle of allied security and solidarity alliance,” by participating in many NATO missions, Duda said. Examples of such missions are, Baltic Air Policing—guarding the skies of Baltic states or carrying out observation missions in the Middle East. And this commitment made Poland eligible to join the F-35 program, Duda concluded.
Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak signed the deal and handed the document to the U.S. ambassador to Poland, Georgette Mosbacher, during a ceremony at the Polish Air Force Academy in Dęblin, Poland.
W polskich Siłach Powietrznych kończy się epoka kokpitów z napisami cyrylicą. Rozpoczynamy erę najnowocześniejszych, budzących respekt u potencjalnych przeciwników, myśliwców 5. generacji. Umowa na 32 samoloty F-35 podpisana! pic.twitter.com/lhhIdQ7XU7
— Mariusz Błaszczak (@mblaszczak) January 31, 2020
U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo welcomed Poland’s decision. He praised Duda and the Polish government for its commitment “to continue modernizing Poland’s military through the acquisition of the world’s most advanced fighter aircraft, which will improve Poland’s ability to provide collective and self-defense. We look forward to working with our NATO Ally Poland on this project and continuing to enhance our long-term strategic partnership,” Pompeo said in a statement.
Poland expects to take delivery of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II combat aircraft between 2024 and 2030. Poland will become the 13th NATO member nation to have F-35 fighters. The contract includes training, logistics, and simulators.
F-35 Lightning II is a 5th Generation multifunction stealth fighter, combining advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, according to Lockheed Martin’s website. The Polish air force currently uses Lockheed Martin’s F-16 fighter aircraft.
The jets will replace some of the Soviet-made MiG-29 fighter aircraft that Poland’s air force still uses.
Poland obtained clearance from the Department of Defense to buy F-35 in September last year and will become the 13the military customer to join F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program, according to Military.com.
Grzegorz Schetyna, the former leader of Civic Platform, the Polish opposition party, told Polish Radio station “Trojka” that “every investment in better equipment for the Polish Army, which guarantees better, more complete security makes sense,” reported internet portal Interia. However, the opposition party was not informed about this deal but should have been notified about the cost of the purchase, negotiations, contract terms, and potential benefits for the Polish industry, Schetyna said.
Polish parliament member Czeslaw Mroczek a, deputy head of the parliamentary defense commission, representing the same opposition party, had similar concerns. “We want to know what the reasons for this decision were and whether from the formal point of view all necessary pre-purchase procedures were carried out,” Mroczek said in an interview, according to Wirtualna Polska (WP). He announced that the coalition of opposition parties, including his party, would submit an urgent request to Poland’s Supreme Audit Office to investigate this deal.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.