Poland, USAFE mark arrival of F-35 in former communist bloc
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 31, 2020
Poland was scheduled to sign on Friday a $4.6 billion contract for 32 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter jets, setting itself up to become the first country in the former Eastern bloc to fly the 5th-generation aircraft.
The Polish air force plans to gradually replace its Soviet-era MiG-29 fighters and Su-22 attack jets with the F-35, a move that further integrates the former Warsaw Pact nation into NATO and the West. Deliveries are scheduled to start in 2024.
Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, the commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe — Air Forces Africa, attended the acceptance ceremony Friday in Deblin, Poland, USAFE officials said.
Last fall, when the proposed sale was announced, the Pentagon said Poland’s acquisition of the F-35 “will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by improving the security of a NATO ally, which is an important force for political stability and economic progress in Europe.”
Situated on NATO’s eastern flank, Poland is key to the alliance’s deterrence efforts against potential Russian aggression. In recent years, the U.S. military has increased its presence and training in the country, routinely deploying service members and investing millions, along with NATO, into infrastructure improvements at Polish military bases.
Other European partners have signed on to the F-35 program, including Belgium, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom.
Of the 60 Lockheed Martin jets in Europe now, none belong to the U.S. Air Force, USAFE officials said. The first U.S. F-35s to be permanently based in Europe are due to begin arriving at RAF Lakenheath, England, in fall 2021.
The latest export sale represents a boost for the troubled program, which has been beset by delays, cost overruns and other problems.
In its annual assessment of the program, the Pentagon test office this week flagged 800 unresolved software deficiencies. It also said the 25 mm cannon on the Air Force version of the F-35 had “unacceptable” accuracy and that the housing of the weapon was found to be cracking.