Douglas Barrie/LONDON Andrzej Jeziorski/MUNICH

IN A MARKED CHANGE of policy, the USA has cleared the way for Eastern European countries to buy US combat aircraft and other conventional weapons.

Poland has already started discussing the supply of second-hand Lockheed F-16A/Bs to replace part of its fleet of Russian fighter aircraft, having previously been blocked in its attempts to buy the aircraft.

The USA and Poland are understood to be in preliminary talks about the supply of up to 24 Lockheed F-16A/Bs held in stock at Davis Monthan AFB, Arizona. Up to 200 early model F-16s are now held at the base.

The policy change was made apparent following a recent meeting between William Perry US defence secretary, and Jerzy Milewski, the acting Polish defence minister.

Under the auspices of Presidential Decision Directive 34, covering conventional-arms sales, Poland, along with Albania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia will now be able to purchase US military equipment.

One source says that Lockheed has been concentrating on Poland, with the F-16 on top of the agenda. "Washington's policy toward any sale appears to have softened considerably," he says.

The US Department of Defense confirms that it is in discussions with Poland, but says: "A decision to sell is some time off."

Polish officials, also confirm that the US offer has been made, but warn that funding for such a procurement is not readily available. They also say that an offer of only aging A/B model F-16s may not be acceptable.

Poland, along with Hungary and the Czech Republic, has expressed an interest in acquiring surplus F-16A/Bs. Previously, the US Government had blocked the release of aircraft because of Russian antipathy toward such a deal.

The aircraft to be supplied would be likely to receive what is known as the "Falcon Up" structural-maintenance programme to extend the aircraft's service life. AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared guided air-to-air missiles would also be supplied. The programme would be contractor supported.

A Polish sale would almost certainly spark renewed pressure from both Hungary and the Czech Republic for the release of the aircraft.

Source: Flight International