Poland and Sweden have signed a new security deal which will allow Polish air force pilots to ßy the Saab JAS39 Gripen. The move comes as the various competitors for the Polish fighter requirement step up their marketing efforts.

The agreement covers the protection of classified military information, and was signed on 15 April by Swedish defence minister Björn von Sydow and his Polish counterpart, Stanislaw Dobrzanski.

Polish pilots will be able to fly the aircraft "soon", according to Saab marketing vice-president Jan Hammarström. The agreement allows classified features of the aircraft to be demonstrated, and will assist discussions on industrial partnerships and technology transfer associated with the deal, according to Saab.

In early March, John Weston - group managing director of Saab's marketing partner in the programme, British Aerospace - announced that any deal would be most likely to include final assembly of the Gripen at PZL Mielec, which urgently needs the work, and assembly of the aircraft's Volvo RM12 engine at PZL Rzeszow. Poland would also be involved in production of the Gripen for export markets.

According to Weston, wider co-operation, including commercial aerospace programmes, is also being considered.

Saab says that a choice in favour of the Gripen would give Poland the chance to participate in further economic and industrial projects in Europe, as well as providing the country with a NATO-compatible fighter force. The maker is also offering Poland the option of leasing Saab JA37 Viggens as a stopgap until the first Gripen deliveries.

The security pact with Sweden follows soon after Lockheed Martin signed an agreement with PZL Mielec which will allow the Polish company to assemble F-16s, if Poland selects this type. Dassault, which is pushing its Mirage 2000-5 for Poland's requirement, says that it will make concrete industrial-co-operation proposals in May, which could also include subassembly manufacture or final assembly.

The McDonnell Douglas F-18 is also under consideration for the requirement. Although this aircraft has found favour with the Polish military for its tactical capability, it is also the most expensive of the types proposed to the cash-strapped Poles.

Poland wants to procure some 60-80 aircraft to replace fleets of ageing Soviet-built Mikoyan MiG-21s and Sukhoi Su-22s. The bidders for the contract say that they expect a request for proposals in June at the earliest, but, more realistically, by the end of the year.

Source: Flight International