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Poland during the Cold War; Deblin, August 19, 2015

The Polish Air Force, part 2; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

During the Cold War, Poland would be part of the Warsaw Pact. Almost all types of aircraft which were in use at the Polish Air Force were during this period from Russian origin. Besides these aircraft also the Polish aviation industry would receive a boost, because many Polish Air Force aircraft were built by the Polish PZL.

The Polish Lotnictwo Ludowego Wojska Polskiego (Polish People's Army Aviation) was founded in 1943 by Polish patriots who wanted to liberate their country from Nazi Germany. This army was launched in cooperation with the Soviet Union and soon this army also got its own air force. The formation of the 1st Independent Squadron began on July 7, 1943 at the airport in Grigoriewskoje in Russia. This unit would be the basis for the 1 Fighter Aviation Regiment. Eventually there were 11 regiments formed which each had a different task. These units were equipped with Russian-made aircraft. After the liberation of Poland this would be the only real air force of the poles. Halfway through 1949, the Polish Air Force had over 595 aircraft in operational service of the type Yak-9T/M, Yak-9P, Yak-9W, IL-2, IL-10, and Pe-2. During this period Poland would join the Warsaw Pact which was founded in response to the NATO in the west from 1955. Since 1951, the Polish Air Force was equipped with Yak-23 jet fighters and MiG-15 "Fagot" jet fighters. Later also the MiG-17 "Fresco" was purchased in 1961. Initially, these aircraft were built in Russia. However, the demand for these aircraft in Eastern Europe was enormous and these planes would be built under license in Poland as well. From 1952, the MiG-15 and later the MiG-17 were produced under license in Poland under the name Lim-1 and Lim-2 as an equivalent for the MiG-15 and the Lim-5 as equivalent for the MiG-17. These aircraft were manufactured in Poland by PZL-Mielec. In 1964 also a ground attack version of the MiG-17 was developed; the aircraft was produced under the name Lim-6.

In 1954, the existing components of the Polish Air Force were merged into the National Air and Air Defense Forces (Wojska Lotnicze i Obrony Przeciwlotniczej Obszaru Kraju (WLiOPL OK)). Later in 1964 the organization was divided again into two separate organizations, each with their own tasks. These two organizations were the Air Force (Wojska Lotnicze) and the Country Air Defense Force (Wojska Obrony Powietrznej

Kraju). The main bombers in service with the Polish Air Force were from 1949 of the type Il-10 "Beast". The first jet bomber which entered operation was the Il-28 "Beagle" and since 1965 the Su-7B "Fitter-A". From 1974, these aircraft were supplemented by the Su-20 and Su-22 "Fitter". The fleet of combat aircraft was supplemented in 1959 with a small number of MiG-19 "Farmer" aircraft. The work horse of the Polish fighter fleet would be the MiG-21 “Fishbed” from 1963. There were hundreds of MiG-21s purchased in numerous variations for the Polish Air Force. In 1979 the fleet of MiG-21s was supplemented with the new MiG-23 "Flogger". The last fighter of Russian origin which entered operation at the Polish Air Force was in 1989 the MiG-29 "Fulcrum". The PZL-104 Wilga was developed in Poland in 1955 to train the Polish pilots. The PZL TS-11 Iskra was developed in the early 60s; this small aircraft would be the primary jet trainer of the Polish Air Force. Besides the aircraft also helicopters would be used of the type Mi-1 "Hare", Mi-4 "Hound", Mi-8/17 "Hip" and Mi-24 "Hind".

After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the disarmament in Europe, the Polish Air Force was reduced drastically. The Polish Air Force had at that time a lot of aircraft. Poland was located in the time of the Communism and the Soviet influence very strategically between the Iron Curtain and the Soviet Union. There were in addition to the Polish units also many Russian units stationed in Poland. The 4th Air Army (4 Vozdushnaya Armiya) was withdrawn after the Cold War from Poland to Russia. This unit was part of the Soviet Northern army’s and was mainly stationed in Poland. The Polish Air Force was at that time a strong air force and had in 1990 types such as the MiG-21, MiG-23, MiG-29, Su-20 and Su-22 in use. This group of aircraft would remain in use within the Polish Air Force after the fall of the Soviet Union. The Lim-6 fighter-bombers were already retired from service in the early 90s. After this period of political change, a new era would start for the Polish Air Force. The country would be increasingly focused on the West at the beginning of the 90s. The next type which would be phased out was the MiG-23 "Flogger" in 1999. A total of 36 MiG-23MF single-seaters and six MiG-23UB trainers were still in operational service. These aircraft were stationed at the airbase Slupsk in northern Poland. After the retirement of the MiG-23, eventually also the MiG-21 "Fishbed" was phased out in 2003. The MiG-21 was at that time stationed at Poznan and Łask in the middle of the country.

From 1999, much would change in Poland in the military structure. The country was admitted to the NATO from 1999 and since then Poland has become a Western country regarding its military structure. The brigade and regimental structure of the Soviet Union was converted into a wing and squadron structure which is used in the West. Poland took several steps towards a full NATO structure and organization and would adjust accordingly. The formal successor of the MiG-21 was after several years of evaluating the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon. The F-16 had won a competition with the new Saab JAS-39 Gripen and the existing Dassault Mirage 2000. In the future, Poland will possibly enter the JSF program. It is not clear whether the country will make this step because the program does not run smoothly. The JSF is going to replace the outdated Su-22 in the role of fighter-bomber. In the recent years Poland has its transport fleet drastically modernized. The outdated An-26 "Curl" transport aircraft were replaced by the American Lockheed C-130 Hercules and the Spanish CASA C-295. Also the helicopter fleet will be changed in the next few years. Poland has already decided to buy the French EC725 Caracal as a replacement for the aging Mi-8 “Hip” transport helicopters. In addition to these actions which are already started, Poland is also considering the purchase of the Boeing AH-64D Apache attack helicopter as a replacement for the Russian Mi-24 "Hind".

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