Technical modernisation and collective defence as a countermeasure against Russian militarism
Deepening military cooperation, NATO collective training and exercises as well as interoperability of military aircraft are the main tasks for air force of the Alliance’s border states – these are the main conclusions from the last ‘Pulaski Security Briefing’ dedicated to the development of the NATO air force. Among participants of the debate were defence attachés from NATO member states – col. Jan Østrup-Møller from Denmark, col. Øivind Oland Christensen from Norway, col. José María Martínez Cortés from Spain, col. Romeo Tăbîrcă from Romania and lt. col. Rimantas Jarmalavičius from Lithuania – as well as representative of Israel col. David Mizrachin and defence attaché of Sweden col. Claes Nilsson.
NATO member states’ air forces have been moving towards further integration and interoperability in terms of both collective defence and out-of-area operations since the late 1990s. A specific case of developing collective defence capabilities concerns the approach of the Nordic countries which are intensifying military cooperation efforts due to Moscow’s aggressive policy. Regional cooperation is particularly important for the Non-NATO Scandinavian countries – Sweden and Finland. This regional integration of defence policies coincides with the time of the decisions concerning the future shape of their air forces. So far, only Sweden and Norway have introduced final decisions about further technical modernisation of their fleets. In the coming years Sweden is going to acquire at least 60 JAS 39E Gripen fighters. Norway on the other hand, as a partner of the Joint Strike Fighter programme, opted for the F-35 Lightning II aircraft, the most advanced multirole fighter on the market. Denmark, which is also a partner of the JSF programme, considers acquisition of F-35, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Eurofighter Typhoon in order to replace its currently used F-16A/B. In the case of Finland, which is seeking a successor aircraft for their F/A-18 C/D Hornets, speculations concern acquisition of Gripen NG (that would lead to closer military cooperation with Sweden) and F-35 aircraft, due to its stealth construction and combat potential against air defence systems.
However, although Sweden is officially outside NATO structures, the Swedish Armed Forces are prepared to cooperate with NATO and the European Union in case of a potential conflict. Sustaining a high level of operational capability and the efficiency of the Swedish Armed Forces would be possible owing to life cycle cost reduction of military equipment and (on limited basis) common military procurement of Nordic Countries. It is worth emphasising that introduction of advanced multirole fighters requires a proper training system for pilots that is not bear in mind by aircraft industry. The most significant argument in favour of the thesis is limited choice of training aircraft – in fact on the market there are only two types of advanced jet trainers – Italian M-346 Master and Korean KAI T-50. Therefore in the recent years the importance of the flight simulators has increased that are able to be an efficient substitute of flight training with significant cost reduction of the whole training process. High life cycle costs also form one of the reasons for further development of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.
The prices of the multirole fighters as well as exploitation costs exceed financial capabilities of defence budgets of the small-sized NATO member states. Consequently, countries such as Lithuania, could contribute significantly to the alliance owing to the specialisation of their Armed Forces and development of specific capabilities, e.g. transport aviation. Technical modernisation also poses a great challenge to the NATO states located in the Balkan Peninsula – the Air Forces of Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are still based on obsolete Soviet-made aircraft. Lack of funding for new advanced multirole fighters was the main reason for the decision of the Romanian government regarding acquisition of 12 ex-Portugal F-16AM/BM aircraft.
Technical modernisation (in order to replace the obsolete Soviet-era Su-22 and MiG-29) as well as further development of the Polish Air Force in terms of the reform of the command and control system of the Armed Forces seem to be the greatest challenge for this state in the coming years. It was pointed out that joint operations are vital for modern warfare, however, the most important are the specific tasks of the Air Force – air defence and offensive capabilities. Polish Air Force should be involved in international operations. Military training and exercises with NATO member states and other Polish allies as well as Air Policing missions are undoubtedly a valuable experience for Polish pilots. Nonetheless, the only opportunity to check the efficiency and operational capabilities of the Air Force would be involvement in out-of-area operations, e.g. in Libya in 2011. It is worth pointing out that countries with less developed air force capabilities, such as Denmark, were active players during that operation.