Deputy Minister of Defence Paweł Bejda stated that the contract’s maximum value has been defined as USD 1.2 billion. He added that negotiation would be completed soon, and the contract signed, which would lead to a delivery that is to elevate the airspace surveillance “to a whole new level”.
And this is not an understatement. Aerostats, with the radars staying airborne, will make it possible to detect low-flying targets at ranges of several hundred kilometres. Ground-based radars can track an object flying at an altitude of 300 feet at a distance of 47 kilometres, provided the conditions allow. Should the terrain come into play, the range would be much shorter. Ground-based radars are also less effective in detecting threats flying lower. Aerostats would become a major reinforcement of the detection capabilities, when it comes to cruise missiles, such as the one that flew over Poland and fell near Bydgoszcz, in late 2022.
According to the State Department notification for Congress, the sale of four Airspace and Surface Radar Reconnaissance (ASRR) aerostat-based AEW systems with IFF system onboard has been approved. The package also includes ground equipment, electronic sensors, and a broad support package. The key contractors include Raytheon Intelligence and Space, TCOM, ELTA North America, and Avantus Federal LLC (QinetiQ, Inc. subsidiary). The previously released statements had suggested that a radar battalion with aerostat posts would begin operations in 2026.
Although the analytical effort on procurement of aerostat systems for Poland (Barbara programme) has been going on since at least 2017, the relevant RFI was submitted to the US only in May 2023. The aerostats would become the second Polish AEW system, alongside the Saab340 AEW&C aircraft, designed for detection of low-flying threats at long distances. The procurement contract regarding the Saab 340 AEW&C aircraft was signed in July 2023, within the framework of an urgent operational requirement. The first of the second-hand, upgraded aircraft should be delivered soon. Aerostats and AEW platforms are complementary, as the aerostats offer virtually unlimited endurance, while aircraft remain mobile, and can access almost any area.