WARSAW--The Polish government's purchase of 48 new F-16 fighter jets provides an unusual windfall for that country's researchers--investments worth an estimated $7.5 billion, including support for several high-tech projects designed to boost Polish science.
On 19 April, the Polish government signed a final agreement--worth $3.5 billion--with Lockheed Martin to purchase jets to replace its aging fleet of Soviet-made MiGs. By Polish law, military purchases from foreign companies must be "offset" by a package of investments put together by the seller worth at least as much as the purchase price. The funds are invested into profitmaking projects, from which both sides are meant to benefit. Lockheed edged out its French, British, and Swedish competitors in part with its generous offset package.
Final contracts with investment partners are to be signed in the coming weeks, including Bioton, a Poznan biotechnology company that produces recombinant insulin, and a business and technology center in Lodz, Poland's second largest city. The agreement with Bioton will be worth tens of millions of dollars, says company president Adam Wilczega, and will help the company register and market its products outside Poland. The $300 million Lodz technology accelerator project aims to give venture capital funding and business advice to high-tech entrepreneurs.
Polish scientists had hoped that the deal would produce a bonanza for research, but few science projects fit the requirements for commercial investment. The science ministry solicited proposals from scientists and received more than 700, but about half were written as grants instead of business plans, says science minister Michal Kleiber, who was appointed head of the offset negotiating team early this year.
In the end, the ministry selected 74 proposals to include in the investment options presented to Lockheed Martin last month. Kleiber admits there is not as much science in the final package as he had hoped. Nevertheless, he says, the benefits for Polish science will go beyond the successfully funded projects. "We really needed such an initiative to mobilize people to think in new ways," he says. The country's tight science budgets can sometimes discourage people from risking innovative ideas, but "with $6 billion on the table, people get motivated."