Świdwin - A Base for the F-35A Harpia? [COMMENTARY]

Image Credit: U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Kahdija Slaughter)
Image Credit: U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Kahdija Slaughter)

External Airfield Branch element [Terenowy Oddział Lotniskowy] announced that a procedure has been launched, aimed at selecting an entity that would begin construction works at the 21st Tactical Air Base of the Polish Air Force, located in Świdwin. So far the base has been a home for the Su-22 jets and W-3 Sokół helicopters. It is, however, to be tailored to host multi-role combat aircraft. The above could mean that the Polish F-35A jets may be stationed there in the future.

The tendering procedure applies to the first phase of work on the base infrastructure. Within the framework of that procurement, the surface of the airfield runways and aprons is to be modernized, along with the technical infrastructure. The bid is to concern the establishment of a road that would connect the cargo apron with the taxiway. The road is to be 110 meters long, with the lanes being 6 meters wide (plus two 1.5 meter wide roadsides). The exact work specification is confidential.

The bids can be submitted until 3rd August. The price will be the sole factor taken into the account here (100% of the assessment). Nonetheless, the entities approved to participate in the tendering process will need to comply with numerous safety requirements, and they will also be required to showcase a project portfolio, with the accomplishment of similar projects documented in the past.

The announcement does not mention the budget of the investment, it seems insignificant though. Despite the above, the fact that the tendering procedure is defined as the first stage of works aimed at making it possible for MRCA to be stationed in Świdwin, along with another tender concerning investments expected to be made at the base (with a value of PLN 21.4 million, concerning a fire brigade base), have both pushed some opinionmakers to speculate that Świdwin would be a home for the Polish F-35 jets, some time in the future, at least among other bases.

The theory above is supported by several facts. First, Świdwin is a large military base that used to host two Su-22 squadrons a decade ago (32 MRCA). The 21st Tactical Air Base has the relevant infrastructure available. That infrastructure needs to be reconstructed and modernized. However, this would be far more affordable than in case of a restoration of some unused facility, not to mention a process of establishing an entirely new airbase. The city of Świdwin and the surrounding area got used to the presence of the airbase, economically and community-wise. Some of the personnel employed at Świdwin currently could still work handling the F-35, in the manner identical to the current one, with eighteen Su-22 aircraft stationed there.

Furthermore, solely Świdwin is located in the west, among the three airbases hosting the post-Soviet combat aircraft in Poland. The remaining two bases hosting the MiG-29s are located further to the East - in Malbork and Minsk Mazowiecki. The former facility is close to the Russian border, while the latter is located relatively close to the uncertain border with Belarus. The F-35, if stationed there, would be exposed to potential damage while the potential adversary could make use of the opportunity to examine the jet’s radar and IR signatures. It is then unquestionable - the locations listed above cannot be used by the F-35. Stationing the F-16s there, especially in Malbork, seems to be an unreasonable move to make as well. Świdwin, located close to the German border, is a much more reasonable location, provided that it is not attacked from the sea, with the use of cruise missiles for instance. The benefits are similar to the ones applicable in the case of the Poznan-Krzesiny airbase.

The current investment does not necessarily mean that an F-35 squadron would be stationed there, not to mention stationing both squadrons in a single location. The work may just as well be aimed at making the 21st Tactical Air Base compliant with the requirements related to the operational use of the F-16s - new ones (the Technical Modernization Plan for the years 2021-2035 envisages extra procurement of such jets and Świdwin has been considered as a potential base for them a decade above), or ones owned already, to create some space for the new F-35s in Krzesiny or Łask. This may also concern the effort to make the base capable of hosting the allied aircraft - either the F-16s of the USAF Europe 480th Squadron of Wild Weasels stationed in Spangdahlem now or the F-35s. The base could also be tailored to host aircraft that would be stationed there on a rotational basis, ad hoc.