The Portuguese Air Force (FAP) deployed around 90 soldiers and 4 of their F-16M fighter planes at Malbork Air Force Base (Poland) on September 4th last year. This operational training department was planned as part of NATO’s guarantee operations and contributed to the principle of collective defense.
The Portuguese aircraft supported the Alliance Forward Presence Battle Groups stationed in the region with training and carried out activities with aircraft from the NATO Airborne Warning and Control System. The tactical control of this department was provided by the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) in Uedem (Germany).
The Portuguese Forum Area (FAP) entered the F-16 era when the Peace Atlantis I program began after a letter of approval was signed in August 1990. The agreement was in part a payment for the use by the United States of Lajes Air’s base in the Azores. It includes not only 20 F-16s (17 A and 3 B) with Pratt & Whitney F100 engines, but also the first logistical support of parts, support equipment, manuals and training of pilots and maintenance personnel.
Photo: A pair of MiG-29s ready for an excursion.
This also included the participation of the FAP in the Technical Coordination Group and the F-16 Aircraft Structural Integrity Program, in the international management of the F100 engine and in the improvement of electronic warfare systems (EWSIP (Electronic Warfare Systems Improvement Program)). . The devices were rebuilt according to the Block 15 OCU standard (Operational Conversion Unit), which makes them almost identical to those of the ADF (Air Defense Fighter).
The only things that make them stand out are the AIFF antennas (Advanced Identification Friend-or-Foe) for identifying friends or enemies, or the bird cutters in front of the cockpit. As a result, the aircraft has the identification light on the left side of the nose and large protrusions at the root of the tail fins that house the actuators on these aircraft as they have been relocated to make room for the installation of RF and RF equipment. Antenna.
Version B samples do not have an RF antenna and therefore the resulting large protrusions. The configuration of the aircraft is almost standard, but has been improved, including the Ring Laser Gyro, the HUD (Head-UpDisplay) for displaying data at eye level for the wide-angle pilots, the Pratt engine and Whitney F100-PW-220E with DEEC (Digital Electronic Engine Control) the digital electronic control and the provisions for the use of air-to-air missiles AIM-120 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile).
In 1996 the FAP requested 25 repowered replacement USAF F-16A / B and 5 replacement F100-PW-220E engines. On November 20, 1997, the Pentagon announced that it would transfer 25 F-16A / B Block 15 Falcon from the USAF, ex ANG (Air National Guard), or store them as DM (Depot Manufacture). On November 14, 1998, the Portuguese government gave the Air Force the green light for this takeover.
The contract included 21 F-16A and 4 B, which would be repowered with F100-PW-220E, but only 16 of the former and the 4 two-seaters would be used to form an attack squadron. The other 5 were intended as a source of spare parts. On November 12, 1997, the Pentagon announced that Portugal would upgrade these 20 Peace Atlantis II program units to the Medium Life Upgrade (MLU) standard using upgrade kits purchased from Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircraft Systems of Fort Worth. Sales also included support equipment, training, technical assistance and spare parts.
The mid-life upgrade included an F-16C / D Block 50 style cockpit with multifunction color displays, a modular mission computer, an APG-66 (V) 2 radar upgrade, a digital terrain system, GPS, AIFF, and an upgraded one Data modem (IDM). Data link and electronic war management system, as well as provisions for a reconnaissance capsule and helmet-mounted display. These changes resulted in a configuration for the FAP that is common to all other NATO F-16A / B users in Western Europe participating in the MLU program: Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway.
In an interview with the Polish commander, he described his MiG-29 fighter-bombers of Russian origin, which are still fully operational in his country’s fleet. After several months of downtime due to accidents that resulted in the death of two pilots, one in Malbork and the other in Minsk Mazowiecki, that nation’s fulcrum is in reality still in action, mainly in the role of air defense.
Minsk Mazowiecki is the main MiG-29 airfield in Poland. This is where the pilots are trained who are assigned to the units that have this aircraft, the 1st ELT (Aviation Squadron) from the same base and the 41st ELT in Malbork. They should remain operational until 2026-28, when they should be replaced by F-35. However, the delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic may add several years to the operating time.
Exchange of experiences with the MiG-29
The joint mission with the F-16s provided another opportunity to train the MiG-29 pilots to face the Vipers and to exchange experiences and tactics with their Portuguese colleagues. The Polish commander explained that the Portuguese fighter-bomber has an engine that is less fuel-efficient and more reliable than the tumanski of its fighter-bombers. However, when climbing to high altitudes, the F-16 loses energy, so when the MiG loses high-altitude flights, the MiG -29 has better performance and thanks to its excellent maneuverability, the Polish pilots can turn more, which puts them in a better condition to fire.
The missions included different aerial combat scenarios: a MiG-29 against an F-16, one against two, two against two or two against four. While there are no spare parts problems for the F-16, the Polish technicians have to face the challenge of keeping this fleet alive. With the spare parts of the decommissioned hunters, they should continue to work until 2026-28.
There is no contract with Russia for support and spare parts, so Polish technicians must do everything possible to ensure the reliability of these fighter jets. Fulcrum’s modernization program started in 2011, turning it into MiG-29M and UBM. The work was carried out by WZL (Wojkowe Zaklady Lotnicze) 2 in Bydgoszcz in cooperation with IAI (Israeli Aerospace Industries) and was completed in 2014.
They consisted of installing a multifunctional screen that switched from analog to digital systems, as well as digital cartography, replacing mechanical gyroscopes with new ones with lasers and the metric system for feet, and changing the cylindrical characters in the cockpit for the western alphabet. A major change was the integration of an RT-8200 radio transmitter, a second that is required by European air traffic control standards to enable flight in its space with UHF / VHF dual-wave capability.
Photo: F-16 leader of the Portuguese division films for a joint mission
They also included a HQ I / II and a Saturn coding system. In addition, the WZL-2 has equipped the cockpit with the new control panel PS-COM-01, with the help of which the original primary radio R-862 can be used. MDP, mission and aerodynamic data computer ADC (Aerodynamic Data Computer) with its TOT sensor outdoors on MIL BUS 1553B; and 5 “x4” multifunction MFCD displays.
There is a bus through which you can connect several additional interfaces or displays, e.g. B. the new INSB-29, AVB-29 and HDB-29, the digital audio and video recorder DVR and the CTVS camcorder. It has the UFCP display panel and the EGI platform (the installation that combines INS and GPS and includes SAASM against deception). 10-150-11 Antenna for GPS and radio just behind the cockpit, which makes it possible to distinguish the MiG-29 of the 1-ELT from those of the 41-ELT, which they don’t have.
This modernization program allows the service life to be extended by 40 years or 4,000 flight hours, and the MiG-29Ms of the 22 BLT (Tactical Area Base) and 23 BLT can be declared to us in Warsaw until 2028 as Lieutenant Colonel Artur Golawski de la Sily Powietrzne (Polish Air Force). These devices show a new camouflage scheme in two light shades of gray, similar to those of the F-16 and Su-22.
Spare part problems
The original armament of the MiG-29, the GS-30-1 cannon with 150 rounds, FAB 100, 250 and 500 bombs and R-27, R-60 and R-73 missiles, is still in use. The main role of the 41-ELT is air defense, and the squadron remains ready for 2 QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) aircraft with a rapid reaction alert equipped with 2 R-60 or 2 R-73 missiles. After entering into the alliance with Russia, one of the problems for Sily Powietrzne was managing the supply of spare parts for the fleet of the MiG-29 and Su-22.
This problem was overlooked as there was a factory in Ukraine that makes spare parts for MiG and Sukhoj and good relations with Ukraine and Belarus which can supply parts for Polish aircraft. In addition, the major overhaul of Tumanski RD-33 engines from WZL2 in Bydgoszcz is guaranteed. This enables the Polish Air Force to take on the role of the national QRA in Lithuania as well.
In 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014 the MiG-29s of the 1-ELT and 41-ELT carried out air policing missions in the Baltic Sea, which were carried out from the Siuliai Air Force Base in Lithuania as CAP (Combat Air Patrol). permanent maintenance of 2 armed aircraft for QRA. In 2014 the actual sorties (alpha-scramble) were 30 to intercept aircraft, mostly transport, but sometimes the Polish MiGs were even with Su-27 and Tu-22.
In terms of cost, the out-of-country operation did not particularly affect Varsocia’s budget for Sily Powietrzne as the total number of hours flying over Lithuania did not significantly exceed the amount the MiGs would have flown in Poland during those months. Since September 21st, 3 Su-22s of Swidwin’s 21 BLT have been deployed at Malbork Air Base to take part in cooperation with the Portuguese F-16s. The latter only take part in air-to-ground missions. This exercise is one of many that Sily Powietrzne participates in to keep her crews at the high standard of NATO.
Defense Magazine # 514, February 2021
Text: Andrea Avian
Photos: Miroslaw Gawronski
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