September 24, 2011: Poland has been replacing its Cold War era MiG-29s with F-16s. Currently Poland has 48 F-16s and 32 MiG-29s in service, and those remaining MiG-29s are in serious need of upgrading. There is not a lot of money available to upgrade aircraft. So as a compromise, 16 of the MiG-29s will undergo a basic upgrade. At a cost of about $3 million per aircraft, the MiGs will get new electronics, including jam-resistant GPS and fire control computers. The upgraded MiG-29s will remain in service until 2030, and will probably undergo another upgrade before that date. The second MiG-29 squadron, that did not get the upgrade, will probably be retired in the next five years.
Poland is in the midst of upgrading its forces. The defense budget went up 7.1 percent this year, to $8.9 billion. This will mark a decade of setting the defense budget at 1.95 percent of GDP. In that time, Poland has been spending heavily to bring its forces up to NATO standards, helped along by a robust economy. The upgrade was accomplished by spending more on procuring Western weapons and equipment (new and used) and cutting personnel strength and the use of conscription. Large quantities of Cold War era gear (most of Russian manufacture or design) was discarded or sold.
A decade ago, the military had 185,000 troops and depended a lot on conscripts who were in for only a year. Now troop strength is down to 100,000 and, as of last year, conscription is gone. Civilian defense employees were also cut. The personnel cuts, and over 70 base closings, saved over a billion dollars a year. Also useful was the retirement of old Soviet era equipment, which was very expensive to maintain. This was especially the case with Russian warplanes, like the MiG-29. That is one reason Poland is replacing most of them with F-16s. Newly obtained, second hand, Leopard 2A4 tanks provide Poland with a more powerful tank than anything the Russians have. Most Polish tanks are still Polish made upgrades of the T-72 (the PT-91). Most Polish forces are up to NATO standards, and all will be by the end of the decade. This is immensely reassuring to Poles, who have been threatened by their Russian neighbor for centuries.