The Polish air force plans to conduct up to 4,800 flight hours with its Lockheed Martin F-16C/D fighters this year, including advanced weapons training and participation in the type's first NATO manoeuvres, with a planned mid-year deployment as part of Exercise Northern Viking in Iceland.

Poland has received 37 of its 48 F-16 Jastrzabs, with 32 assigned to its 3rd Tactical Air Squadron operational conversion and attack unit and 6 Sqn fighter/attack unit at Poznan-Krzesiny air base. Five will be transferred to the service's 10 Sqn at Lask air base in mid-2008, with this to specialise in fighter/reconnaissance tasks.

Polish F-16 JDAM 
© Lockheed Martin

"The average operational availability rate for the F-16 fleet in 2007 was 75-80%, but we hope it will be 90% in 2008," says air force commander Lt Gen Andrzej Blasik. The aircraft flew 2,480h last year, more than a planned total of 2,130h, he adds.

Warsaw will have 35 F-16 pilots trained by the end of this year, with this to increase to 48 by late 2009 and to 72 in 2012. A total of 21 student pilots are being trained in the USA at a cost of around $2.5-3 million each, while roughly 780 engineers and technicians from a required 1,100 ground crew will also have completed training by year-end.

Future instruction will take place at the air force academy in Deblin, with Poland to later this year launch a tender for 16-18 new advanced jet/lead-in fighter trainers to replace the PZL Mielec TS-11 Iskra from 2012. A selection is expected during 2009 under the estimated €240-300 million ($380-475 million) project, with candidates likely to include the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 and BAE Systems Hawk.

Warsaw's preliminary budget for 2008-12 also includes 450 million zlotys ($210 million) to acquire two multirole tanker/transports to support F-16 operations and VIP transport duties.

Additional reporting by Grzegorz Sobczak