Polish Air Force Mig-29
Copyright: Andrea Avian

Portuguese Air Force F-16s train with Polish Air Force Mig-29s during NATO Assurance Measures 2020 exercise

The Portuguese Air Force deployed approx. 70 military personnel and four of its F-16M fighter jets on 4th September to Malbork Air Base, Poland. 

This operational training detachment takes place under the umbrella of the NATO’s Assurance Measures for 2020 It will be contributing directly to the principle of collective defence and the spirit of solidarity that characterizes the Alliance.

The Portuguese Air Force stationed the F-16 “Vipers” for multi-role missions both Air-to-Air and Air-to-Ground,” said the Portuguese detachment commander, Lieutenant Colonel Joao “Jedi” Rosa. “This offers increased flexibility and provides excellent training opportunities together with the Host Nation and Allied Armed Forces stationed in the area. We will not only work with NATO countries, but also Partner forces from Sweden and Finland.

The Portuguese jets will provide training support to NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence Battle Groups deployed to the region and conduct activities with NATO Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft. Tactical control of this detachment is provided by the Combined Air Operations Centre in Uedem, Germany.

The Portuguese contingent will be deployed for two roughly months. The jets will then redeploy to their home base at Monte Real. After their deployment the pilots, support staff and fighters will return to ensure Air Policing missions over Portugal under the NATO-wide 24/7 peacetime operations.

Speaking with the polish Squadron Commander he described a still full operarive MiG 29 in the polish air fleet. After few months of stop in operations due to  accidents which cost the lifes of two pilots, one in Malbork and the other in Minsk Mazowiecki, actually the polish Fulcrum are still operating, primary in the role of air defence.

Minsk Mazowiecki is the main MiG 29 air base in Poland and actually they are training four young pilots who will assigned to the MiG 29 line, 1 ELT in Minsk Mazowiecki and 41 ELT in Malbork. The MiG 29 should stay in service in Poland until 2026-2028, when the F-35 will replace it, but the delay due to Covid-19 pandemic may extend its service for few years.

The joint mission with Portuguese F-16 is a further oportunity to train MiG 29 pilots to face the Viper and to share experiences and tactics with their Portuguese collegues. The polish commander explained that the F-16 has a less cosumpting engine and more reliable if compared with MiG 29 Tumanski engines, but climbing to high altitudes, the F-16 losses more energy, so in high level flight the MiG 29 is more performing and thanks to its excellent manouvrability, polish pilot can turn tighter, and this can put them in a better condition for firing.

The missions expect different scenarios of air fighting: one MiG against one F-16, one against two, two against two or two against four.

While for the F-16 there is no difficulties in terms of spare parts, the polish technicians have to face the challenge of keeping alive the actual MiG 29 fleet. Using the spare parts coming from the retired MiG 29, the forecast is to keep alive the fleet until 2026-2028. There are no contract with Russian for assistance and spare parts, so polish technicians have to do their best to guarantee the reliability of the fighter jets.

Polish Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrum

In 2011 began the modernization program of the Fulcrums, then named MiG 29M and UBM. The works had been conduced by the WZL 2 ( Wojkowe Zaklady Lotnicze 2) in Bydgoszcz, in co-operation with Israeli Aerospace Industies, completed in 2014, which consisted in the placement of an multifunctional display, changing from anlaogic systems to digital systems, digital maps, substitution of mechanical gyros with a new laser system, sostitution of metrical system with “feet” and changing cyrillic letters in the cockpit with the occidental alfabet.

The major changings consists in the placement of Radiostation RT-8200, this is a second radio required by European air traffic control rules, to allow the flight in European air space, double wave capable UHF/VHF . It has a coding system HQ I/II and SATURN. Additionally WZL-2 equipped the cockpit with new control panel PS-COM-01 that helps to use the primary (original) radio R-862, MDP- computer, the mission computer, multifunctional MFCD displays, size 5”x4”, Aerodynamic data Computer ADC with its outside sensor TOT, MIL BUS 1553B, a capable bus that allows to connect variuos interfaces or additional displays like the new INSB-29, AVB-29 and HDB-29, digital audio+video recorder DVR and videocamera CTVS, UFCP display panel, platform EGI (the installation that combines INS and GPS and includes antispoofing SAASM), Antenna 10-150-11 for GPS and radio, located just behind the canopy, which allows to recognize the MiG 29 from 1-ELT from those one of 41-ELT, which doesn not have it.

This modernization program allows to extend the opertational life for 40 years or better 4.000 flight hours and the MiG 29M of 22 BLT and 23 BLT can stay in service untill 2028., as Lt. Col. Artur Golawski, officier of Sily Powietrzne in Warszawa, explains. The new MiGs show a new camoflage scheme in two light tones of gray, similar to those of F 16 and Su-22.

The original armament of the MiG 29, the GS-30-1 cannon, with 150 rundels, FAB 100-250-500 bombs and R-27, R 60 and R-73 missiles is still in use. But the primary role of 41-ELT is air  defense and the squadron keep ready for QRA two aircraft armed with two R-60 or two R-73 missiles.

After the conclusion of the alliance with Russia, one of the problems for Sily Powietrzne was to manage the supply of spare parts for the MiG 29, and Su 22, fleet. This problem was by-passed thanks to the presence in Ukraine of a factory which produce spare parts for MiG and Sukhoi and to the good reletionship with Ukrainian and Belarus, who can provide new parts to the Polish aircraft. Above this, the major overhaul of Tumanski RD-33 engines is garanted by  WZL2 in Bydgoszcz.

Due to this, Polish Air Force is capable to solve the function of national QRA such  even in Lithuania. In 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014 the MiG 29 belonging to 1ELT and 41ELT perfromed the Baltic Air Policing missions, operating from Siuliai air base, in Lithuania. During the mission, the polish MiG 29 carried out the Combat Air Patrol (CAP) role, keeping 24/24 for all the time, two aircraft armed for QRA.

In 2014 the Alfa-Scramble were 30, intercepting the V-VS aircraft, the most of the time they were transport aircraft, but sometimes the Polish MiG met even Su 27 and Tu 22. In term of costs, the deployment outside national borders did not particularly weighed on  the budget designated by Warszawa for the Sily Powietrzne, because the total number of flight hours over Lithuania did not exceed significantly the number of flight hours that the MiG should have flown over Poland in those months.

From 21st September in Malbork air base even three Su 22 belonging to 21 BLT in Swidwin are deployed to take part in the co-operation with Portuguese F-16. The Su 22 partecipate only in the air to ground missions. This exercise is one of the many exercises where Sily Powietrzne partecipates with the aim to mantain its crew to the high NATO standard level.

Article: Andrea Avian
Photo credits: Andrea Avian, Miroslaw Gawronski