Armed Forces

Gen. Wiśniewski: We Will Need Support for the F-35 in 2-3 years

Modernizacja lotnictwa Sił Powietrznych
Panel on the modernization of the Polish Air Force
Photo. Defence24

A panel on the modernization of the Polish Air Force was held on the second day of the Defence24 Days conference. The discussion focused on the need to purchase new combat aircraft, support platforms, weapons, command and electronic warfare systems. The transfer of technology and know-how to the Polish aerospace industry and economic cooperation were discussed as well.

The panel was attended by Div. General Pilot Cezary Wisniewski, Deputy Commander General of the Armed Forces; Brad Russell Senior Manager for Advanced Systems, Northrop Grumman; Dr Savio Babu, Director of Engineering, Air Weapons Division, MBDA; Rob Novotny, Executive Director for Air Dominance at Boeing Defense, Space & Security; and J.R. McDonald vice president of F-35 sales development at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. The panel was moderated by Maciej Szopa.

The discussion focused on combat air platforms and the investment path that shall be pursued by the Polish Air Force, concerning these.

General Wiśniewski was the first to take the floor:

“I strongly endorse the air power and what it can bring to the multi-domain battlefield. Today, the question must be asked: is it our ambition to build such an air force so that we can win air superiority? Air Defence is the first mission tied to aviation. My heart bleeds since it is a defensive form of fighting. The enemy chooses time and place, while we are to respond. As a fighter pilot, my heart is offensive. I want to act offensively, I want to fight for air superiority, to penetrate these so-called A2AD bubbles. I want to decide on strike location and time, selection of weapons, and win the air superiority. And that superiority will make it possible for the Navy, and the Land Forces, to win.

We have to answer the question: Should we have such ambitions, or should we organize everything within the framework of air defence and win over our territory? After answering this question - what do we want to achieve - we should make the appropriate procurement (of combat aircraft - ed.).” - the General said.


He added that an air platform capable of performing SEAD and DEAD missions, i.e. overpowering or destroying enemy air defence systems, was certainly needed.

Asked about new acquisitions for the air domain, done over the past 12 months, the General said that the procurement of second-hand Saab 340 AEW early warning aircraft would help fill ‘several gaps’ in the Air Force’s capabilities in the near term.

“Saab 340 has been procured within the framework of urgent operational requirements. The Command decided it needed quickly accessible, accurate data on what stays in the air close to our border.

Earlier on we were investing in ground-based radars. It seemed they would suffice if we saturate the reconnaissance domain with them, given our industry’s good capabilities within that scope. However, the current development of combat systems, including cruise missiles with the ability to maneuver and fly at low levels (some have stealth attributes) will make these ground-based capabilities insufficient to provide precise information rapidly. Thus making a radar airborne seemed like a quick and reasonable fix”, he said. He added that the military had long sought to get the radar into the air in this way as part of the Płomykówka programme, but that this had not happened sooner due to the expansive capabilities the allies have in this area. “It is only the current war in Ukraine that has shown that our own capabilities of this kind are urgently needed.”

The General believes that in the future, early warning and tracking of detected targets will be done by airborne radars carried by aerostats (to be procured via the ongoing Barbara programme) and, in the longer term, also large UAVs, adapted to provide sufficient power and payload capacity for the sensors. This will be made possible primarily thanks to AESA and SAR technologies that can be used to miniaturize radars.

He said that he perceives the upcoming delivery of the first Polish F-35 this year as a breakthrough. The Polish pilots will be able to get acquainted with the aircraft by finally flying it. Currently, they are already undertaking simulator training.

Rob Novotny presented the advantages of the F-15EX heavy fighter. He stressed that there are currently five countries in the world that use a fleet of combat aircraft consisting of F-15s, F-16s and F-35s. These are the Republic of Korea, the United States, Japan, Israel and Singapore, so countries that are wealthy but also serious about security due to the situation in which they find themselves.

That fighter mix is said to be optimal - as those states perceive it. No plans have been made by the aforesaid nations to withdraw the F-15. They are rather inclined to upgrade that platform or replace it with the new EX variant or equivalent jets. Novotny himself, who rose to the rank of general in the US Air Force and served as the Nellis AFB commander (hosting three types of aircraft in question), expressed a similar opinion.


He stressed that the F-15 is capable of establishing optimal interoperability with the F-16 and the F-35, complementing these aircraft thanks to ‘unparalleled’ performance figures like range, top speed or the ability to carry a huge weapons payload of up to 15 tonnes.

Novotny argued that specialized platforms that communicate well with each other achieve synergies and their fleets are more efficient than homogeneous fleets.

Later in the conversation, he also addressed the issue of electronic stealth, the latest class of electronic warfare systems installed on, for example, the F-15EX. This solution is, in his opinion, in many ways better than physical stealth, because once the adversary learns to detect such platforms, there is nothing to be done about it anyway. Meanwhile, a platform fitted with ‘electronic stealth’ only requires easy software updates in an analogous situation, and the adversary has to learn detection from scratch.

In turn, J.R. McDonald highlighted the advantages of the F-35 as the aircraft remaining most lethal and offering the best net-centric capabilities. He admitted that although the aircraft is sometimes referred to as a multi-role aircraft, this term usually is used when referring to 4th generation aircraft rather than 5th generation - and the F-35 is viewed as a fifth-generation jet. It is the 4th generation aircraft that must specialize in being either a »multi-role«, or air superiority platform. For the F-35, this is no longer the case. McDonald said that the F-35 excels across all mission sets and that the mission sets are no longer a factor. The experts should rather view the aircraft’s ability to fight in different environments as an assessment category. McDonald noted that Poland faces one of the most dense A2AD environments, globally. The analysis conducted by USAF shows that solely stealth platforms can operate in such conditions - being able to establish relevant air superiority, and simply operate being mission-focused, manoeuvring without worrying about the enemy’s air defence assets. And this, Novotny concluded, is a decisive advantage.


He added that the F-35 also has other advantages, like the ability to fly closer to the adversary undetected, as well as an advanced sensor suite. In that way the aircraft can obtain information, that is then analyzed, and fused, not only to meet the needs of the F-35 pilot, but also the needs of other assets participating in the battle, and receiving that data.

Lockheed Martin’s representative recalled that the F-35 can also carry armament on underwing hardpoints. Despite sacrificing the stealth features, the payload becomes similar to the F-15EX.

Savio Babu who was involved in the process of integrating the Meteor missile with the F-35 also contributed to the discussion, saying that weapons may further enhance the MRCA’s capabilities. As he said, Meteor AAM turns the F-35 into an “airborne sniper”. Not only is the Meteor a long-range air-to-air missile, but it is also a weapon one cannot evade, due to its energy status, and the ability to perform terminal stage maneuvers. When combined with the F-35’s features, Meteor creates a synergy. Babu explained that this combines the facts of flying a low-observable aircraft and having missiles that cannot be evaded, with a long range. The long range of the missile guarantees the first shot. These characteristics, in a battlespace congested with electronic warfare and other factors, are the key to being victorious. The ability to detect the target and engage it at a stand-off distance is less stressful for the pilot who can, in peace, monitor the battlespace and seek targets. Babu concluded that the aforesaid peace of mind is a huge difference.

He added that MBDA Brimstone missiles are a game-changer for air-to-surface engagements. Not only can they be employed by MRCA, but also by helicopters, UAVs, or land platforms.

Brad Russell admitted, that the aircraft, along with its weapons, remain important to win. However, as he recalled, matters tied to communications are important - like interconnecting the participants of the battle with a command network. He said that without proper situational awareness, all of the assets remain less than effective. Warship or aircraft, when starting an engagement, needs to „know what it sees”, how to approach the target, and what to do with the weapons. The pilot or crew also need to know the threats, and the potential factors that may impact the engagement, and that knowledge is of key importance - the situational awareness is of critical relevance in the 21st Century, Russel said, concluding his statement by saying that the ability to not only work with own aircraft, but also the allied assets is crucial.

AARGM-ER has also been referred to as a major aid for handling the modern battlespace, Russel said. Poland is planning to procure these missiles. Russell noted that the said missiles can fit in the internal weapon bays of the F-35, but they can also be carried by F-15s and F-16s, also adding that they provide the carrier aircraft with long-range capabilities, and the ability to flexibly strike the ground-based radars used by the adversary. And this, he concluded, is the essence of SEAD and DEAD operations that remain the cornerstone of air superiority.

Brad Russell also referred to the possible scenario of 4th generation aircraft being used in a modern conflict. He said that in a perfect world, the Air Forces would own 1,000 5th-generation fighters. This is, however, unattainable for any state. Russell noted that the Polish procurement strategy involving an MLU programme for the F-16, or procurement of the FA-50, to attain a proper quantitative shape of the Air Force, should be viewed as a valid strategy with the 21st Century War being a realistic prospect.

This makes it possible to use the aircraft wherever the given type is appropriate to be used. This, he continued, includes SEAD/DEAD weapons, or air superiority armament. Nonetheless, it is necessary to modernize the existing fleets. This would involve the provision of a new, modern radar for the F-16 (like SABR), or a new ECM suite. All of these changes would make it easier to detect and neutralize the threats. Russell concluded that the strategy to procure high-end, and mid-tier aircraft, with the latter guaranteeing the quantity, is a good one.

During the further portion of the discussion, the matter of industrial cooperation was covered.

Rob Novotny stressed that Boeing employs 1,100 employees, and is engaged in a partnership with 27 Polish businesses. He listed the grand programmes happening globally that involved Boeing - tied to the F-15 - in numerous states globally, stating that he expects the same to happen in Poland. Novotny said that the F-15 is designed for daily use, with the user handling the maintenance independently, which also has an impact on its shape. Boeing, as the interlocutor said, is working on this in the Middle East. In Japan, the F-15s were license manufactured. Similar things may be happening in Poland, he said. He noted that Boeing wants to expand cooperation, whenever an opportunity presents itself.

J.R. McDonald said that Lockheed Martin is driven to focus on protecting Poland from external threats, by reinforcing it internally. He recalled the fact that the company has been engaged in cooperation with the Polish defence industry for 2 decades now, and it has made plans with WZL2 to upgrade and modify the F-16s in Poland. McDonald also said that Lockheed employs 1,500 employees at its facility in Mielec which, apart from the Black Hawk helicopters, also manufactures crucial components of the F-16 structure. He said that Lockheed is driven to execute a solid plan to continue growing its industrial footprint in Poland.

The first tranche of the Polish F-35, for a myriad of reasons, did not entail any formalized offset deal. A memorandum was signed, primarily involving the PGZ group, aimed at seeking business opportunities. For the second tranche of F-35, the offset deals would be more formalized. He said that this would begin with a search for businesses and academic entities that the company could support, to meet the expectations expressed by the Polish government, responding to the expectations tied to economic participation.

Savio Babu recalled that MBDA has always been eager to get involved in a multi-aspect transfer of technologies. This is the case for the Narew GBAD system. This may also be the case for weapons designed for MRCA. The same applies to the transfer of the manufacturing efforts to Poland.

Babu claimed that the agreement’s structure would be identical to the Narew-related contract and that there is a lot of technological commonality between the ASRAAM and CAMM missiles.

Further synergy could be obtained if Brimstone is selected as the effector in the Ottokar-Brzoza programme, with an intent to use this ATGM also as a weapon for aircraft. Babu said that MBDA has always been interested in delivering solutions to Poland, as the company established a local branch here, expanding its activities.

Gen. Wiśniewski also made some references to industrial matters. „When I was working as a defence attaché in Washington, I was under the impression that the understanding of what the Polish taxpayer perceives as industrial cooperation is erroneous, in the case of our business partners”, he admitted.

He went on to remind the audience that in the 20-year inter-war period, Poland was able to create a highly advanced aerospace sector that exported its products to six European countries and that the PZL-37 Łoś won a competition with the He-111 for the best bomber at a fair in Germany. „Poland, and the Polish industry, were been able to manufacture top quality aircraft. Science was also thriving. We have accomplished a huge success. We lost to the German air support tactics, but the Polish plan to support its units, using the Polish aerospace industry in defensive efforts has proven to be useful, the idea was proven to be very valid. Maybe we needed one more year, maybe two”, he assessed.

“I encourage business partners to look at cooperation with Poland as a venture where both sides bear the risk. So that we build future competency that will not only feed the Polish Armed Forces but also radiate more widely to our economic partners, and our neighbours.

We know that the lack of proper air assets in Ukraine is a major problem. Lacking them, it is impossible to fight an adversary who has a relevant industrial backbone and can boost the manufacturing output rapidly. Poland is an ambitious state that makes a lot of investment in defence. We spend the highest percentage of GDP on defence in NATO, 3.9%. This is a testimony to the efforts made by the Polish taxpayers. And how much consent there is among them, to build the defensive capabilities. This shows that we need your support - support of the foreign industry. Support that would address the requirements defined by the Armed Forces. Not just the peacetime and parade requirements, but also the requirements emerging during the crises and wartime. That means that you need to establish capacity in this part of Europe, in Poland. I don’t like the term ‘offset’, we are speaking of industrial cooperation. For us to jointly bear the industrial risk, when Poland procures armament”, he addressed the representatives of the industry, gathered at the event. He added that the latest historical period is full of better and worse examples of cooperation with foreign contractors.

When asked about possible future investment in aircraft, General Wiśniewski listed the emphasis on the best possible IFF systems, pointing to the fact that in Ukraine the airspace is so saturated with aircraft (mainly UAVs), that friendly fire incidents are quite common. It also remains important to employ the best available ECM assets, and solutions countering the enemy electronic warfare assets, protecting both the fighting force, as well as the PGMs.

Another trend the General indicated comes in the form of UCAVs that would accompany the MRCA. “We have excellent information from the United States that the CCA (Collaborative Combat Aircraft) programme will work not only with future aircraft from the NGAD Next Generation Air Dominance programme), but also with the F-35. We are introducing the latter right now, and we will need support in 2-3 years. It seems that we will need the CCA programme. That will make it possible to carry more sensors or effectors, and manage risk. Where the A2AD systems are strong enough to make it risky to deploy a 5th generation stealth aircraft there, CCA could be deployed, also expected to have stealth attributes. We are closely following the progression of these works in the US and Australia, we are reading the reports issued by USAF Research Laboratory. This is the time when we need to follow those developments closely”, he said.

He saw the creation of an effective »kill chain« - the process that is followed from target detection, through qualification and elimination - as the next challenge. The ongoing war shows that the development of airstrike measures means that there is less and less time to carry out the whole process and, as a result, AI must be involved shortly. That is solutions that will classify targets more quickly and assist in rapid decision-making.