Aiming to meet force targets set out before it officially joined NATO in 1999, Poland is weighing the possible lease of 16 F-16A/B fighters from the United States. Polish Defense Minister Bronislaw Komorowski discussed the offer in November with U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen in Washington. At a November 8 joint press conference, both defense officials said no final decision had yet been reached.
After being invited to join NATO in July 1997, Poland and NATO held negotiations to determine what future force levels would enable Warsaw to provide for its own defense and to contribute to overall alliance defense and other alliance missions, such as peacekeeping operations. As a result of those talks, Poland pledged to have 16 NATO-compatible fighters by 2003 and a total of 60 a few years later. During his recent Washington visit, Komorowski reiterated that Poland "wants to be a reliable member of NATO," but acknowledged that current Polish defense spending is "not sufficient from the point of view of modern NATO members and the requirements of NATO."
The Pentagon, recognizing the current Polish budget crunch, has offered the F-16s for only the cost of upgrading them for NATO interoperability, estimated at more than $200 million. If Poland accepts the U.S. offer, it increases the likelihood that Poland would turn to the United States for its future fighter buys. Cohen stated he believes the F-16 offer is in the "best interests of both the United States and the Polish militaries and our security relationship."
The Czech Republic and Hungary, which both joined NATO at the same time as Poland, are also looking at future fighter options to meet their alliance commitments. The Czech Republic is seeking to buy 36 new fighters, while Hungary suggested in July that it might upgrade 14 of its Soviet-produced MiG-29 fighters to meet its short-term obligations.