Poland receives first F-16s

  • Published
  • By Maj. Krista Carlos
  • U.S. Air Forces in Europe Public Affairs
The first F-16 Fighting Falcons acquired by the Polish air force arrived at the 31st Air Base here Nov. 9 and were featured at a special roll-out ceremony.

Gen. Tom Hobbins, Allied Air Component commander and U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander, represented the Air Force chief of staff at the event which included speeches by the Polish president, as well as a blessing of the aircraft and consecration ceremony.

"Poland's acquisition of the F-16 cements the relationship between the U.S. Air Force and the Polish air force for several decades to come," said General Hobbins. "This ceremony demonstrates that Poland has become a very powerful and more vital member of NATO than ever before."

The aircraft arrival marked a great leap forward for Poland as they transform from aging Soviet-style equipment to some of the most advanced systems in Europe and NATO, the general said.

"Poland's F-16s represent the most sophisticated aircraft in Eastern Europe and will serve as a military-to-military engagement magnet for forces in Europe," he said. "These aircraft are extremely capable in any of the NATO roles, whether they're utilized in counter-air missions in the NATO Response Force, or air defense with the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan."

In addition to the sophistication aspect of the aircraft, the F-16 acquisition improves interoperability between NATO nations.

"From an interoperability standpoint, air policing will be one of the things that will be greatly enhanced as Poland brings down the MIG-29s and begins to develop operational F-16s to do that role," the general said.

To prepare the Polish air force for the arrival of their new aircraft, Polish pilots and maintainers trained with their American counterparts in the U.S. to learn about the F-16's capabilities.

"There is a flow of Polish pilots going through training in the U.S. right now and coming back to Poland," said Lt. Col. Eric Salomonson, an instructor pilot with the Arizona Air National Guard's 162nd Fighter Wing. "We currently have 11 pilots training in Arizona now."

Lt. Col. Salomonson said the Air Force is currently helping and assisting the Polish with standing up their squadron in Poland, as well as rotating mobile training teams through to assist with aircraft maintenance.

As the Polish air force acquires a total of 48 F-16s over the next two years, the U.S. will continue to provide exchanges with their Polish counterparts to improve their F-16 partnerships and capabilities.