Analysis: options for Poland in case of MiG-29 transfer to Ukraine

M346FA Poland MIG29 replacement Ukraine
Polish Air Force M-346 Bielik advanced trainer jet.

While many 'news aggregators' are posting about Poland's plan to purchase light combat aircraft to replace MiG-29s, careful analysis needs to be done.

At the beginning of March, Warsaw said it was ready to sell the entire MiG-29 fleet to Ukraine in exchange for F-16 jets from the United States as compensation. The offer came in response to the Ukrainian president's request to receive combat aircraft from NATO to support the exhausted fighter fleet of the Ukrainian Air Force.

Washington immediately said no to this proposal as it would lead Moscow to escalate the war.

Poland's offer aims to help Ukraine, but also to receive more modern and high-performance combat aircraft for free and get rid of its old Russian-made aircraft. Having already F-16 fighters in the Polish Air Force fleet, this exchange would be very beneficial for Warsaw.

Polish officials have been clear that they will not divest the MiGs without a quick fill somewhere.

The Poles would like NATO to take care of this transfer to avoid having direct repercussions from Moscow. They also rely on some kind of funding in the impossibility of receiving other aircraft.

It is clear that if Poland were to send its fighters across the border, it will need to introduce an aircraft capable of being readily fielded. Although the media are mentioning various options, including the KAI FA-50, the best choice is undoubtedly the Leonardo M-346FA. It boasts modern radar and systems, as well as the ability to load a wide range of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons.

For some time, Leonardo has been offering Poland the armed version of its advanced trainer aircraft to replace the Sukhoi Su-22s. It would allow the nation to rationalize the fleet with great economic benefits. The Polish Air Force has been using the trainer variant of the M-346 for some years now.

"We are not offering Poland the M-346FA as a simple successor to the Su-22. Our platform has much more to offer," Marco Lupo, President of Leonardo Poland, recently said in an interview with Rzeczpospolita journalist Marcin Piasecki.

Lupo highlighted how the aircraft is able to cover multiple tasks such as air-to-ground attacks with the use of precision weapons, reconnaissance, tactical support for naval operations, electronic combat (using a special container) or airspace surveillance.

According to Lupo, the M-346FA is capable of carrying out most of the missions covered by the F-16 and F-35 aircraft at a fraction of the cost.

"The M-346FA can take on some of their duties at a significantly lower cost. Approximately the savings can range from 1/10 to 1/5 of maintenance, fuel and purchase costs compared to heavier platforms like the F-16 and F-35," he said.

Blog Before Flight has long considered the M-346FA multi-role jet as the best option to replace Soviet-era Polish fighters, see our 2018 analysis.

Written by Matteo Sanzani
Image: Polish Air Force

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