Offset programme covering high technology and manufacturing could be deciding factor

The Polish defence ministry has finalised the timetable for its long-planned fighter acquisition, now due to conclude by year-end.

Final technical and industrial requirements were due to be handed over to the French, Swedish, UK and US governments on 8 July, immediately after changes in Poland's offset requirements became law. Final offers are to be submitted on 10 November, with a decision due on 28 December.

Poland is seeking offers of the Dassault Mirage 2000-5Mk2, Lockheed MartinF-16C/D and Saab/ BAE Systems Gripen. The country requires 48 new-build fighters, of which 12 are to be two-seaters. The contract will also cover weapons, spares, ground equipment and initial air and ground crew training.

The $3.5 billion deal will be financed via credit lines, which Warsaw hopes will be underwritten by the winning government. Poland is seeking a government-to-government deal rather than buying the aircraft direct from a company.

Although deliveries are due to begin in late 2005 or early 2006, most payment will be delayed until after 2010. Initial payments, up to 2009, are not to exceed 0.05% of gross national product, around €100 million ($97.8 million).

Offset requirements are to be at least 100% of the contract value, and call for technology transfer in optronics, thermal imaging and fire-control systems. Structures manufacturing, and potentially final assembly will take place in Poland - almost certainly at PZL Mielec. Other areas of interest include unmanned air vehicles and precision weaponry.

Aircraft numbers may be reduced to enough for one squadron, with additional aircraft to be delivered later in the decade. Polish defence planning calls for 90-100 more fighters on top of the 48, although this is unlikely as the air force is to be slimmed down.

The F-16 is the favourite for the order, with support among senior politicians and industrial leaders. But it is understood that the US offset offer does not match the competition, and the economic benefits of larger industrial packages are expected to be a major factor.

Source: Flight International