Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski plans to double defence spending from 1998 to 2002, to help speed up his country's entry into NATO.

Kwasniewski says that the money, amounting to Pzl8 billion ($6.2 billion), will be needed to fund armed-forces modernisation programmes, including the purchase of new multi-role combat aircraft for the Polish air force. Plans to raise the money are now being drawn up, he says.

Apart from the need to fund procurement plans, which could also include purchasing the PZL-Swidnik Huzar helicopter with a new avionics and weapons package from the USA or Israel, the Polish air force is also suffering from a desperate lack of funds for training. Polish pilots are believed to be averaging some 50 flying hours a year, far below NATO minima.

The President's statement has caught many officials at the defence ministry by surprise. Minister Stanislaw Dobrzanski has distanced himself from the quoted figure, saying that the Government should not give people the impression "-that adapting the armed forces to NATO standards will be that expensive".

Defence ministry finance officials say that the Polish parliament decided in February that defence spending would rise about 3% annually to cover modernisation costs. Extra funds for defence in the current financial situation are "out of the question", says finance chief General Tadeusz Grabowski.

Source: Flight International