Aircraft to Support F-35 and F-16 Operations
During MSPO 2020 Lockheed Martin has been promoting its concept of a UAS as a solution for Poland’s HARPI SZPON (HARPY’S TALON) programme. Warsaw’s aim in this regard is to procure a next-generation stealth UAS.
The aircraft are planned for close integration with the 32 F-35As Poland is procuring under the HARPIA programme, and also with the 40 or so F-16C/Ds expected to be operational by the time the former are delivered. HARPI SZPON is one of Poland’s top modernisation priorities for 2021-2035. At the same time Poland has officially expressed its willingness to join the UAS programme. Lockheed Martin is now keen to find a foreign partner and compete head on with Boeing’s LOYAL WINGMAN programme, being conducted jointly with Australia.
In Lockheed Martin’s vision, Polish UAS would be tasked with surveillance and reconnaissance duties as well as target detection for the F-35s. The company did not rule out that these long endurance drones could be lightly armed, but that will depend entirely on the customer’s decision. The company stressed that the UAS could either perform its duties independently or be controlled by an aircraft or a ground station. It was hinted that this particular type, serving as the F-35’s ‘loyal wingman,’ could be based on existing technologies, which would speed up its introduction into operational service in the Polish Air Force. However, the UAS offered to Poland is a part of a larger programme the company has been carrying out for the United States, where the military is now seeking a replacement for the MQ-9 REAPER long-endurance, high-altitude UAS.
No additional details have been revealed, although Gary North, VP for Customer Requirements, hinted in an online press briefing that the UAS could be jointly manufactured with the Polish defence industry. That would most likely include both design and production. According to Lockheed Martin, US and Polish requirements and expectations are very similar, which makes close cooperation possible, though it must be noted that Polish industry has no experience in larger drones and thus its contribution is doubtful. Lockheed Martin is open to technology transfer, dependent on further talks with the Polish government and a clear definition of Poland’s requirements, which are not yet fully known.
Robert Czulda in Kielce for MON