Talks are under way between Russia and Poland on possible licensed production of the Sukhoi Su-39 strike aircraft by Polish manufacturer PZL-Mielec.
Moscow is pushing the project as a means of settling its state debt to Poland, according to Russian media reports. Meetings have been held with defence officials and representatives of Solidarity, the ruling party in Poland, says the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS.
The Su-39, which carries the Russian air force designation Su-25TM, is an advanced all-weather anti-tank variant of the basic Su-25 with improved avionics, navigation, and targeting systems.
The aircraft can also be fitted with a pod-mounted Phazotron Kopyo-25 pulse-Doppler radar. Sukhoi has been considering whether to modify the aircraft nose to allow the radar to be carried internally, although this would mean relocating the television, laser range-finder and Schkval targeting system.
The Polish air force has a longstanding requirement for a close-support aircraft, leading to domestic proposals such as the ambitious PZL-Okecie PZL-230F Skorpion and the PZL-Mielec M-99 Orkan, a derivative of Mielec's I-22 Iryda jet trainer. This requirement, however, has taken a back seat to talks on the purchase of up to 100 new multi-role fighters.
Senior sources at Mielec confirm that Sukhoi representatives visited the plant in 1997 to discuss potential technical co- operation. Mielec is not now involved in any firm talks on the Su-39, however, an aircraft which it sees as a rival for the proposed combat derivatives of the Iryda.
"In any case, the aircraft would have to be modernised for NATO compatibility, which is a terrible job," claims one source.
A request for proposals for a new Polish air force fighter could be created this year. Leading candidates are the Boeing F/A-18, Dassault Mirage 2000-5, Lockheed Martin F-16 and Saab JAS39.
Russia has also offered licensed production of the MAPO MiG-29M fighter in Poland, but the Russian proposals have always been viewed with scepticism because of political reluctance to maintain defence ties with Moscow, combined with Poland's desire to be in the first wave of ex-Communist states accepted into NATO.
Russia, however, believes that its debt to Poland makes its offers attractive, as the country would struggle to pay for a significant force of Western fighters.