Poland is on the defence acquisition trail to replace its old Soviet-era equipment, even if the new budget and strategy looks optimistic.
Poland has undoubtably come along way since it emerged from behind the Iron Curtain to become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) on 12 March, 1999. It has stood firmly behind its western allies not only the Iraq War, where it committed troops and special forces (SOF), but as a NATO member, Poland contributed forces into NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan up to withdrawal of the majority of forces in 2014.
Poland’s Task Force White Eagle brigade took responsibility for the province of Ghazni. It deployed a variety supporting vehicles and helicopters including 70 Kołowy Transporter Opancerzony (KTO) Rosomak wheeled armoured vehicles and four Mil Mi‑24 and up to five Mil Mi‑17 helicopters for aerial firepower and utility lift. It also sent SOF to operate in the province.
As Russian foreign policy continues to be perceived as looking for expansionist opportunities, following on from the seizure of the Crimea and part of the Ukraine, the US and NATO view is that Poland as a state on the edge of NATO’s eastern border that must be bolstered and strengthened. Its common border with Lithuania in the northeast of the country links the Balkan states (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) with the main NATO land mass in the West.
In keeping with so many ex-Warsaw Pact countries, its main military strength comprises Russian made equipment which it is eager to replace with more modern, western designed equipment. This would also have the advantage of integrating more easily with all of the defence based networks of its allies in addition to operating common equipment.
On 28 February Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak signed the Armed Forces Technological Modernisation Plan (TMP) 2017-2026. The initiative plans to secure the investment of around $48.5 billion on defence acquisition by 2026. There is some concern about the accuracy of this figure. Currently Poland spends just over two percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defence but the Plan makes the assumption that this will increase and will allow defence spending to raise to around 2.4 percent GDP.
However, the acquisition of two systems has already been agreed. One is the purchase of an initial 20 M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers – 18 combat and two for training. Each mobile launcher can fire six guided rockets over 70km (37 miles) or one MGM-140 ATACMS missile up to 300km from the five-ton truck; the chassis being produced by BAE Systems while the rocket launching system is from Lockheed Martin Missiles & Fire Control. It is a small MLRS variant with the ability to ‘shoot-and-scoot’.
Raytheon’s Patriot air and missile defence system was also on the Polish MoD’S shopping list and the largest contract for arms ever committed to by Poland, $4.75 billion, was signed in March 2018. The first deal will see the delivery of two batteries together with fire control by 2022.
Modernising doesn’t get any further towards the ‘tip of the spear’ that 5th Generation Fighters. During a speech on 29 April Defence Minister laszczak stated that the Polish government was looking to acquire Lockheed Martin F-35 fighters to replace its ageing Soviet era Sukhoi Su-22 and Mikoyan MiG-29 jets. This was followed in May by a letter of request sent by the Polish Government for 32 F-35 aircraft.
In 10 June, during a visit to the United States the Minister visited Eglin Air Force Base, where he was further briefed on the F-35 development programme. Talking of the prospect of owning F-35s he stated that it would be “a big breakthrough in the combat capabilities of Polish Air Force.”
According to Blaszczak, “the purchase of F-35 fighters fits into the creation of the entire system that deters a potential enemy.” He added: “Earlier, I signed contracts for the purchase of Patriot and Himars systems.”
Also during the visit to the US, a Declaration on Defence Cooperation was signed which, in essence, is designed to bring more US forces into Poland. The declaration aims to see the establishment in Poland of the following: “a Forward US Division Headquarters; a Combat Training Centre; a base for US Special Forces capabilities; a base for a US Air Force unmanned aerial vehicles MQ-9 squadron; as well as a loading and unloading air base and support groups to secure current and future US Armed Forces in Poland. An infrastructure will also be created to support the presence of an armoured brigade combat group, an air combat brigade and a battalion of logistic support.”
On 21 June, the Department of Defense (DoD) approved the sale set of Insitu RQ-21A Blackjack UAS to Poland. The contract was conducted through FMS and was valued around $11.3 million. The usual package of this nature comprises five airframes and two ground control stations. The RQ-21A sensor suite would include an daytime/night camera, laser rangefinder, infra-red target designator and communications package. It has an endurance of around 16 hours up to an altitude of around 6,000 metre.
According to Blaszczak, the Polish MoD is also looking to modernise most of the Army’s equipment including motors, tanks, guns and even submarines.
One of the most successful defence companies in Poland is the WB Group, well known for its UAV systems (FLYEYE), loitering munitions (WARMATE) and personal communications systems.
On 22 July the company announced that it had signed a supplemental agreement with the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) “for upgraded versions of the in-service FLYEYE UAS fleet.” The upgrades will serve to “increase the interoperability of the Polish Army by standardising configuration’.
The FLYEYE UAS is operated by the Polish armed forces, is infantry portable and hand launched and used to provide ground troops with intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (ISTAR) from over the battlefield. The enhanced version delivers increased system performance and offers longer endurance, up to 2.5 hours. According to the company, further features include tactical and maritime antennae and an FT-LoC2 GPS based long range emergency location and recovery device. The final delivery is due by the end of 2020.
Aircraft manufacturer PZL Mielic (a Sikorsky company) has recently received orders from the Polish Government for four S-70i Black Hawks with an option for a further four. The company has also designed a single weapons station with it will reveal of the Polish defence show in September (MSPO). The company now not only builds UH-60M helicopters, but is also qualified to maintain them as well giving European customers a closer maintenance and repair facility.
In March, PZL Mielic confirmed an $18.9 million contract from the US DoD to supply two M28 short take-off and landing (STOL) aircraft to the Nepalese Army Air Wing which had already operated one of the type before it crashed heavily. Mielic is well known for its design and manufacture of fixed wing aircraft that stretches back to the 1930s.
The German Army is also still looking for a dedicated ‘narrow cockpit’ attach helicopter to replaced the Mi-24 while the Polish Navy agreed an acquisition of four AW101 helicopters from Leonardo. These will serve both as anti-submarine warfare platforms and for combat search and rescue (CSAR). The $430 million deal will see the AW101 eventually replace the old Mil-14s. Like Sikorsky, Leonardo also has its own Polish factory, PZL-Świdnik’s in eastern Poland.
The Polish Government is also preparing to defend the country against cyber attack. The Government has launched its own CYBER.MIL programme. On 7 May an agreement was signed with NATO to cooperate in cyber security and mutual support. According to a Government statement, “Poland will participate in the development of early warning systems for threats in cyberspace and will be able to count on the advice of NATO experts and cooperation with the defence industry in this area. The Government is also looking to establish its own military Cyberspace Defense Forces.