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Poland: Program Aims To Modernize Arms Industry

Kielce, Poland, 4 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Poland is about to embark on a wide-ranging program to restructure its arms industry. The plan, which is to be announced next month, will involve selling off at least 35 of some 40 state-owned defense plants to strategic investors, primarily western arms producers. It will also involve lay offs of some 14,000 workers out of the total workforce of 70,000.

Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek has said the program is to be completed by 2012.

Opening two days ago (Sept. 2) the International Arms Fair in the city of Kielce, central Poland, Buzek said the Polish arms industry pins its future on cooperating with western companies.

More than 200 producing companies from 23 countries took part in the Fair, considered the biggest in Central Europe.

Poland is to gain a full NATO membership next year. Its immediate goals include choosing equipment and weapon systems compatible with those of the Alliance countries.

This is an expensive proposition. Last year Poland announced it would put off purchase of a modern fighter airplane for at least five years.

Deputy Defense Minister Romuald Szeremietiew has recently said Poland is interested in leasing fighter planes from the West, most probably from the United States. This would help Polish pilots to familiarize themselves with aircrafts used by NATO forces.

"We don't know what kind of plane it will be," a Polish Defense Ministry official said, asking not to disclose his name. But it is believed that it may be Boeing's F-18 Hornet or Lockheed Martin's F-16. Offers presented by the two companies include co-production and service agreements with Polish partners.

Tim Moreland Jr. From Boeing Company told RFE/RL in Kielce that "If an F/A-18 is purchased, we expect it to be produced in Poland," Moreland said.

Dariusz Klimek, Polish deputy minister of economy, said fast implementation of the restructuring plan is vital for Poland. "The arms plants have been working at a loss since 1990," he said. "We have to change that. Foreign capital and privatization are needed to salvage the arms industry."

According to Klimek, all Polish plants sold arms for $1 billion last year.