The US government has cleared Poland’s possible acquisition of aerostats for monitoring both airspace and land.
The value of the contract is $1.2 billion and could see Warsaw receive Airspace and Surface Radar Reconnaissance (ASRR) systems, according to a Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notice to the US Congress.
The package includes an undisclosed number of aerostats, airborne early warning radars with an identification friend of foe capability, mooring systems, and power tethers with embedded fibre optics.
Also included are logistics and training support.
“The proposed sale will improve Poland’s capability to meet current and future threats of enemy air and ground weapons systems,” says the DSCA.
“Poland will use the capability as an airborne early warning system to defend against incoming regional threats. This will also enable Poland to increase its contribution to future NATO operations. Poland will have no difficulty absorbing this equipment into its armed forces.”
The notification indicates that the principal contractors for the work would be Raytheon Intelligence and Space, Elta North America, and Avantus Federal, a unit of Qinetiq.
Raytheon has been involved in aerostat work, most notably its joint land attack cruise missile defence elevated netted sensor (JLENS), an aerostat that would have been integrated with North American Aerospace Defense Command.
The programme was cancelled in 2016 after a JLENS aerostat broke free of its mooring at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland and proceeded on a wild journey north through Pennsylvania, dragging a 2,040m (6,700ft) tether over powerlines as it went.
Two Lockheed Martin F-16s scrambled to monitor the uncontrolled balloon and even shoot it down if necessary, although the aerostat came down on its own after 3h.
The tethered radar project, which began in 2005, promised to be a low-cost way of detecting and tracking cruise missiles as part of an integrated air defence network. It had just begun a three-year operational trial to assess its suitability for guarding Washington DC.
The Polish air force currently does not have an operational airborne early warning and control aircraft capability, but is preparing to field two Saab 340s equipped with Erieye surveillance radars.