Andrew Doyle/MUNICH

Poland is preparing to issue a formal tender for its 60-fighter requirement amid strong indications that the government favours an offer of used Lockheed Martin F-16s from the USA.

Industry sources say Poland's finance ministry has informally agreed to allocate $1.5 billion for the purchase. The sources say this would be sufficient to cover the cheapest option of acquiring up to 60 secondhand F-16s from the USA, comprising a mix of leased and purchased aircraft.

A senior Polish Government official confirms that "we like the F-16", but says an aircraft selection will not be made until the completion of the formal tender process, after which the funding requirement will be determined.

The finance ministry declines to comment on the suggested figure of $1.5 billion, saying only that "we treat the allocation of money for the fighter purchase as absolutely necessary and it will happen".

Also competing for the deal are the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet, Saab/BAE Systems Gripen and the Dassault Mirage 2000.

All four bidders responded to a request for information last year, and delivered proposals covering the supply of aircraft on interim lease, followed by the purchase of new examples later.

The US Government offered to lease Poland surplus F-16s and F/A-18s, and to supply the country with new aircraft. The F/A-18 option, however, is a more difficult deal as the relatively expensive F/A-18E/Fwill be the only new variant available, and used examples of earlier versions may not be readily available from the US inventory.

Saab/BAE's response to the request for information was based on an interim lease of Swedish air force Gripens, followed by the supply of new aircraft. Dassault is understood to have proposed elderly Super Etendards for the interim requirement.

Polish air force sources confirm that one option under consideration is to lease 16 used F-16A/Bs from 2003, followed by the purchase of another 44 secondhand A/Bs and/or C/Ds by 2006. The purchased aircraft would be upgraded in Poland.

BAE says it will promote its belief that a smaller fleet of more expensive Gripens could give Poland the same level of defence capability as the F-16. It also suggests that the overall cost-effectiveness of each bid will not become clear until the tendering process has been completed.

Industrial offset considerations are also expected to weigh heavily on the decision.

The Polish ministry of economy confirms that it is preparing a formal request for proposals but is unable to provide an expected date of its release.

Poland joined NATO last year and is under pressure to replace its Soviet-era Mikoyan MiG-21s and MiG-23s which will enable the country to become a militarily integrated member of the alliance.

Source: Flight International