F-16 sales run into difficulties as Warsaw revises requirement list and Vienna protests

Lockheed Martin is revising its offer of F-16s to Poland to reflect a shift away from a mixed purchase of used and new fighters in favour of 48 new-build aircraft. At the same time there is growing industry concern that mounting criticism within Austria could scupper that country's planned buy of 30 replacement fighters.

Poland has dropped plans to order 16 secondhand Western fighters with a follow-on deal for 44 new fighters. This follows a deal with Germany to buy 23 ex-Luftwaffe RSK MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters to replace part of its ageing fleet of Mikoyan MiG-21 (Flight International, 5-11 February). Lockheed Martin, together with Fokker and Sabca, had proposed a mixture of surplus Belgian, Dutch and USAF F-16A/B Block 15s.

The focus is now on purchasing a slightly larger number of new fighters, with a decision expected by late summer or early autumn, according to Lockheed Martin. The F-16C/D Block 50/52 is facing strong competition from the Saab/BAE Systems Gripen, which has already been selected by neighbouring Czech Republic and Hungary, as well as the Dassault Mirage 2000-5Mk2.

Lockheed Martin has blamed its two recent campaign losses to the Gripen on better offset proposals by the Swedish/UK consortium. The company has dispatched a "capture team" to Poland to work out the details of an offset package there, following recent changes in local law allowing for broader investment. It is understood the $3 billion fighter deal could involve local assembly by PZL-Mielec.

Austria is also expected to make a decision by this year on a replacement for its Saab J35OE Draken fighters, with the F-16 Block 50/52 and Gripen both in contention. The planned buy of 30 new fighters, worth an estimated $1.74 billion, is encountering opposition, which industry sources fear could curtail the competition.

Source: Flight International