Poland Commits MiG-29 Fleet To Ukrainian Air Force
Poland will send four operational Mikoyan MiG-29s to the Ukrainian Air force in the “coming days” and possibly the rest of its Soviet-era Fulcrum fleet as they are restored to combat service condition, President Andrzej Duda said on March 16.
The announcement breaks a yearlong impasse over whether Western governments would heed Ukrainian demands for fighters. The pending Polish MiG-29s will provide Ukrainian Air force pilots with a familiar fighter type with the need for little, if any, refresher training. But the aircraft still fall short of Kyiv’s pleas for NATO-standard fighters, such as Lockheed Martin F-16s or Fairchild Republic A-10s.
“Literally, in the next few days, we are actually handing over four planes to Ukraine in full working order,” Duda told reporters in a joint press conference with Czech President Petr Pavel. “The remaining planes are currently being prepared, and will probably be handed over successively.”
Ukraine has not reported aircraft losses during its yearlong, ongoing war with Russia, but the government has prioritized being resupplied with fighters for air defense and ground support operations. In February, Ukrainian officials also called for Western attack helicopters, such as Bell AH-1Zs and Boeing AH-64s.
For Warsaw, the donated MiG-29s will be backfilled in the Polish Air force with 12 Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) FA-50s scheduled for delivery later this year, Duda said. The first batch of Lot 16-configured Lockheed Martin F-35As ordered by Poland are expected to be delivered in 2024, but the first several aircraft will likely remain in the U.S. for several months to train pilots and maintainers.
KAI is diverting the 12 light combat fighters ordered by Poland last September from planned deliveries to the South Korean Air force. A follow-on order by Poland for 36 FA-50PLs will be delivered after 2023 in a special configuration, with new extended-range fuel tanks, an active electronically scanned array radar and a high off-boresight air-to-air missile.
Poland has about 24 MiG-29s in service, according to Aviation Week’s military aircraft database, but many are expected to be at a low level of combat readiness. The fleet is composed of a mix of MiG-29s ordered by Poland in the late 1980s, and others that were transferred from the Czech Republic in the 1990s and donated by Germany in the early 2000s.
The Polish air force originally planned to retire the MiG-29s by 2010, but budget shortfalls delayed orders for their replacement for more than a decade.
But the country’s leaders have struggled with the decision to donate the fleet to Ukraine. In the first two weeks of the war, Poland proposed handing over the MiG-29s to the U.S., which would then send them to Ukraine. But the U.S. government rejected the offer. Even last month, Duda had voiced doubts about the wisdom of sending even an aging portion of the country’s air power capability to another country.
“We have not enough [fighters] … and we would need many more of them,” Duda told the BBC in an interview, noting the Polish MiG-29s have a “very serious need for maintenance.”
But Poland’s decision to donate the MiG-29s anyway could inspire similar moves in Eastern Europe. Slovakian Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad said on March 9 that the time had come to decide whether to send Ukraine its MiG-29s, which were officially retired last August. Slovakia is not due to receive the first of 12 F-16 Block 70s on order until March 2024.