This year Poland celebrates 15 years of membership with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO. Since the beginning of that period, the Polish Ministry of Defence radically reorganized its forces and has different types of its fleet replaced for more modern types. Although the army and navy both have a comprehensive fleet of aircraft, this article focuses on the modernized air force of the Republic of Poland.

In 2018 the Polish Air Force exists 100 years. For almost half of that time, the period between World War II and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the air force was equipped with mainly Russian-made aircraft. After Poland became a member of NATO on March 12, 1999 that changed.


Under pressure from the protests of the trade union Solidarity, the first free elections behind the Iron Curtain in 1989 were held in Poland. With the fall of the Berlin Wall later that year the communist USSR disintegrated. The military turmoil in Europe caused by the Cold War was over. For the new Polish democratic government, this was the reason to reduce its air force and restructure its organization. Several obsolete aircraft were withdrawn from service during the '90's, such as the Lim-6a, the Su-20 and MiG-23. The Air Force didn't replace these types. The only exception was the acquisition of ten Czech MiG-29 aircraft in exchange for 11 PZL W-3 helicopters. Meanwhile the Polish government spoke with NATO to become a member. In 1994 this first resulted in joining the Partnership for Peace (PfP). This NATO-program tries to build trust between NATO and other European countries on the one hand and on the other hand between NATO-members and former Eastern Bloc countries.

Five years later, Poland became a full member of NATO. This had the necessary impact on the organization of the armed forces and the equipment that they had employed so far. Lieutenant-colonel Goławski of the General Command of the Armed Forces, Dowództwo Generálne Rodzajów SIL Zbrojnych (DGRSZ), explains: "In order to be efficient and in accordance with NATO-standards, we had to reorganize our forces. But that was not all. Our arsenal of weapons was outdated. Joining NATO meant that we had to replace or modernize our equipment to meet the mentioned standards. We started energetically, but because of the economic crisis of the last years we had to adjust our pace of upgrading."


With effect from the 1st of January 2014 the Polish Armed Forces has the following components: the General Staff, the DGRSZ, Operational Command of the Armed Forces, the Military Police, Inspection and Support and the Warsaw Garrison Command. The overall command and control of the Polish Armed Forces is the General Staff's job. The DGRSZ has the daily management and commands the air force, army, navy and special forces. Once the armed forces participate in specific operations such as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, then the Operational Commands has the lead.
The other components each have specific tasks. The Military Police oversees the observance of military discipline and protects the public lands and buildings of all units of the Polish Armed Forces. Inspection and Support has various supporting specialties, such as the logistics of military operations in Poland and abroad and supporting during theresponse to natural disasters. The Warsaw Garrison finally has traditionally been the guardian of the capital and its present military buildings and government buildings. The unit also performs ceremonial duties, such as guarding the famous monument of the "Tomb from the unknown soldier".

Wojsk Lotniczych

Lieutenant-colonel Goławski explains about the organization of the air force (sily Powietrzne): "The air force's primary task is to ensure the security of the national airspace and to defend the Polish airspace, land and water against all enemies. There are three divisions formed: Air Force (Wojsk Lotniczych), Air Defence Troops (Wojsk Obrony Przeciwlotniczej) and the troops for radio and radar techniques (Wojsk Radiotechnicznych)."
The air force has four units. Goławski continues: "The first and second tactical unit, 1 and 2 Skrzydła Lotnictwa Taktycznego, are responsible for defending Poland and its airspace from the air. Our fighter aircraft are part thereof. The third unit, 3 Skrzydła Lotnictwa Transportoweg, is responsible for all our air transport. The fourth unit, 4 Skrzydło Lotnictwa Szkolnego trains and educates our pilots and supporting personnel. Besides the air force pilots also the pilots and support personnel from the army and navy receive their education and training at this unit."

Fighters fleet

The air force's modernization task meant that they had to withdraw the MiG-21 from service. "In 2003 we decided to add the F-16C/D Jastrzab as a new multirole fighter jet to the air force. The first aircraft of this Block 52+ type were delivered in 2006. The fleet now consists of 48 Jastrzab's and is divided into three tactical squadrons, or eskadra lotnictwa taktycznego (elt). 3 Elt and 6 elt are stationed at Poznań-Krzesiny Air Base, 10 elt on Łask Airbase." says Goławski. 6 Elt is a full member of the NATO Tiger Association.

The lieutenant-colonel continues: "In 2004 we received 22 MiG-29 aircraft from Germany. These fighters, 18 G models and four two-seater GT, served with the German Air Force, Luftwaffe, since the unification of East and West Germany in 1990. Eventually we took 14 of these fighters into service because after the acquisition it turned out that not all the aircraft were in good shape. Now our fleet of this type has 31 active airplanes, one piece is used for ground training. Half of the fleet is stationed with 41 elt at Malbork Air Base. The fleet belonging to 1st elt on Minsk-Mazowiecki Air Base is being modernized."

The third type of fighter that the Polish Air Force uses, is a veteran: the Su-22 Fitter. All the Su-22's are stationed at Świdwin Air Base, located in north-western Poland. The air force has 26 single-seaters which are referred to as Su-22M-4. The six twin-seaters are referred to as Su-22UM-3K. Captain Hewelt, staff member of Airbase Świdwin, says: "Our Fitters are divided into two squadrons, 8 elt and 40 elt. Initially, we would continue to fly this fighter until the end of 2014. The government wants to replace this iconic aircraft for a more modern type, but a choice to do so and a type has not been made yet. Our pilots say the Su-22 is pleasant to fly, but they are also very interested in a more modern airplane."

The air force is investigating various options for replacing the Fitter and, simultaneously or later, the MiG-29. The purchase of additional F-16's is an option. Also producing that successful fighter in license is investigated. In February 2014 the Polish Air Force announced that it will hold 32 of its Su-22's in service for some more years until a choice about replacement is made. On March 15, 2014 it was announced that manufacturer Boeing will offer the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in that regard. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter doesn't seem to be a feasible option anymore.

Air Transport Fleet

When Poland became a member of NATO the Polish Air Force had two types of Russian-made transport aircraft from manufacturer Antonov is use, the An-2 and An-26. The first is a double-decker transport aircraft which the air force used since 1956. The last An-2 was withdrawn from use in 2012. The Air Force used 12 An-26 since 1972. That type was replaced in 2008 for six second-hand C-130E Hercules transport aircraft, bought from the United States Air Force. The C-130's are stationed at Powidz Air Base with 14 eltr (eskadra lotnictwa transportowego).
For lighter transport tasks the air force also has purchased the C-295M from the Spanish manufacturer Construcciones Aeronáuticas SA (CASA), 16 so far. These are stationed with 13 eltr at Kraków-Balice Air Base.

For passenger- and connecting flights the Air Force has the M-28 in service. This twin prop plane is designed by aircraft manufacturer Panstwowe Zakłady Lotnicze (PZL) and based on the Russian An-28. The several planes that the Air Force has in service are stationed with several units.
Finally, the Air Force operates three types of helicopters within its transport fleet. The Mi-2 and W-3, depending on the version, are used for air support to ground operations, passenger- and medical flights. Both are stationed with several units. This also applies to the Mi-8, a twin turbine transport helicopter that can carry up to 24 people or 3,000 kilograms of cargo. Poland announced on April 21st,2015 that its MoD will buy over 50 H225M Caracal helicopters which previously was designated as EC725. A not yet known amount of these will replace the air forces Mi-8.

In the future the air force will add two tanker aircraft. Poland currently can choose from the Boeing KC-46 and the Airbus A-330 MRTT (Multi Role Tanker Transport). The choice will be made in cooperation with the European Defence Agency (EDA). Lieutenant-colonel Metodi Metodiev of the Bulgarian Air Force, project manager Air-to-Air Refuelling with the EDA, states as follows: "Our goal is to operate a European tanker- and strategic transport unit from 2020 on. Besides Poland also the Netherlands, Norway, Belgium and Spain participate in the project. Other countries may also join. The idea is that we buy and operate a joint tanker fleet of five new aircraft total. Our ambition is to make a choice soon, so the aircraft can be delivered in 2019." From the mentioned five tankers, two will be for the Polish Air Force.


A special form of passenger transport is the transportation of VIPs, including the Polish president and top military officers. Until 2010, this task fell directly under the command of the Polish Air Force. After a Tu-154M with aboard Polish president Lech Kaczyński crashed, the outdated VIP fleet was put out of service. The unit responsible for VIP-transport was disbanded. Nowadays the DGRSZ is directly responsible for transportation of VIP's, but the aircraft are flown by pilots from the air force.

For VIP-transport the DGRSZ leases two luxurious airplanes of the type ERJ-175-200LR from the Polish Airlines, LOT. The VIP-fleet also consists of several M-28B's, four Mi-8's and five W-3 helicopters. The last W-3 was delivered on December the 23th, 2013. All units are stationed at Warsaw-Okecie, which is the military part of the National Frederic Chopin Airport.

Fleet of trainers

Polish Air Force pilots receive their first training at the Polish Air Force Academy (Wyzsza Szkoła Oficerska Powietrznych SIL), located in Dęblin. There they learn to fly light propeller aircraft such as the Da-20. The pilots selected for one of the three fighter planes then follow their practical training on the PZL-130 Orlik and the TS-11 Iskra.
The PZL-130 is a single-engine propeller plane, used for basic pilot training and in service since 1994. These planes are stationed with the second training unit, 2 Ośrodek Szkolenia Lotniczego (2 OszL) at Radom-Sadkow Air Base. Currently they are modernized from TC-I to TC-II variant. The aircraft will receive winglets and a new PW Canada PT6A-25C turbo engine. Also the chair for the instructor will be optimized.

The TS-11 is a single-engine jet aircraft from the 1960's. Pilots destined to fly a Su-22 or MiG-29 will first receive their jet training on the TS-11, wich follows the training on the PZL-130. The jet trainers are all stationed with 1.OszL at Dęblin Air Base. Also the well-known demonstration team Team Iskra flies with the TS-11. On February the 27th, 2014 the Italian aircraft manufacturer Alenia Aermacchi and the Polish Air Force signed a contract worth 280 million euros for the supply of eight M-346 jet trainers. That Italian trainer will replace the TS-11 from 2017 on. The agreement also includes a training program for pilots and technicians, also logistics support is included. If the Polish Air Force needs any additional airplanes from this type is not yet known at this time.
Helicopter pilots are trained on the Mi-2, W-3 and SW-4 helicopters. The SW-4 helicopter is designed by PZL. It's a light helicopter which is mostly used for passenger transportation and training. After completion of the initial training phase on one of the three aforementioned helicopters, the pilots will then convert to the helicopter which they will fly in active service. This can also be a type that is operated by the army, such as a Mi-24.

Education in America

Pilots selected for the F-16 leave for the United States of America after they complete their training on the PZL-130. The first phase takes place at the Defence Language Institute English Language Center at Lackland Air Force Base (AFB) in San Antonio, Texas. There the pilots learn the English language and technical terms needed to fly modern fighter jet. This phase lasts between four and seven months, depending on the knowledge of the English language that the student has upon arrival in San Antonio.
After that the course on the T-38 Talon starts, which takes place at various bases. Second-lieutenant Maciej Krakowian recently successfully completed the training. He remembers: "I started my training with very little flying experience. I experienced the training as intense and challenging. Now I have clocked 190 hours the T-38 with the 435th Fighter Training Squadron at Randolph AFB. I've just been selected to join the IFF training (Intro to Fighter Fundamentals). After that I will be learning to fly the F-16 with the 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson Air National Guard Base." After completion the Polish F-16 pilots will be trained further on the type that the Air Force is flying back in Poland. "The additional training is needed because our Block 52+ F-16s are more advanced than the aircraft that we fly during training. For example, our Jastrzab's have a more powerful engine and a modern APG-68 radar", said the student pilot.

Commitment and deployment within NATO

Since Poland became a NATO-member, Polish soldiers participated in several NATO-related missions. For example, they were active in KFOR (Kosovo Force) in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. However, these troops were not part of the Polish Air Force. For ISAF the air force supplied air traffic controllers to Kabul International Airport.
Like other NATO-members the Polish Air Force also fulfils its task in Air Policing. Air Policing provides for monitoring the airspace of the Baltic States, because they themselves aren't capable enough.
The Polish Air Force participates in various NATO-exercises. Examples are the Tactical Leadership Program (exercise for new tactics, techniques and procedures in a multinational coalition), Red Flag (large-scale international exercise to practice the use of large air operations in coalition), Frisian Flag (similar exercise as Red Flag, but takes place at Leeuwarden Air Base in the Netherlands) and Steadfast Jazz (exercise to improve cooperation between NATO-members). The 2013-edition of last mentioned exercise mainly took place in Poland.
Finally, it is noteworthy that Poland participates in the Heavy Airlift Wing (HAW). The HAW is part of the Strategic Airlift Capability, a partnership between ten NATO-countries and two PfP-members. The HAW operates three Boeing C-17A cargo aircraft. By working together like this, the participating countries can operate joint strategic air transport for the coming 30 years.


For the past 15 years, the Polish Air Force invested in the modernization of its equipment. Most obsolete types have been replaced for more modern. To the extent not already done, further modernization will take place the foreseeable future. In cooperation with other NATO-allies, Poland is also working on a joint airlift fleet. In short, Wojsk Lotniczych is now a modern, efficient and to NATO-standards equipped air force.