Polish Army on a shopping spree – modernisation of the military with American equipment

Paweł Supernak

Poland splashing out PLN 16 bln (EUR 3.8 bln) on a Patriot air and defence system marks the largest weapons contract in the country’s history.

Produced by the American company Raytheon, the system is designed to shoot down tactical short-range ballistic missiles, including cruise missiles.

The complementary Integrated Air and Missile Battle Command System (IBCS) will monitor Poland's airspace, recognise the type of threat (aircraft or missile) and eliminate them in a matter of seconds.

Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki said the purchase was a good step forward in US-Polish ties.

He told Polish TV: “An agreement on the Patriot system, the state-of-the-art US technology, is proof of our close allied solidarity with the US.”

Poland has been a strong vocal advocate of a bigger presence of US and NATO troops on its Eastern flank, even before the Russian annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of war in Donbas.

Due to Poland’s steadfast contribution to NATO’s forces and missions (Poland promised to acquire a missile defence system when it was negotiating the accession to the alliance back in the ’90) and with uncertainty to the east, these demands had been heard. The so-called enhanced Forward Presence with units from the US, UK, Romania and Croatia, as well as the American Armoured Brigade Combat Team stationed in Poland are a demonstration of the Polish allies’ resolve to uphold Article 5 and maintain collective security.

 It is not just by international guarantees, that Poland is improving its security. The country remains one of the few NATO members committing 2% of its GDP to military spending. 25% of the sum, roughly EUR 2,5 bln per year, is devoted to the modernisation of often Soviet-made equipment.

Apart from the Patriot system, Poland purchased forty eight F-16 fighter aircrafts, as well as JASSM air-surface missiles with range of 400 or 1000 km through the Foreign Military Sales procedure, offered by the US government.

“Buying F-16s was a strategic decision that bound us with one specific country”, explained Tomasz Smura, Head of the Research Office at the Casimir Pulaski Foundation think tank. “The purchase of an arms system is not a one-time transaction. It requires creating training procedures, cooperation, spare parts supply etc. A contract like this equals a close relation and cooperation for 40-50 years”, he added.

The choice of partners and producers of armaments is significant.

Poland is in the process of acquiring an unprecedented amount of new equipment. “We want to purchase further Patriot batteries, a new, 360-degree radar, which gives a greater capacity to effectively counter missile attacks than the sector-scan radar" Mateusz Błaszczak, the Minister of Defence announced.

And that is only the start, since the official ‘shopping list’, MODs Technical Modernization Plan (Plan Modernizacji Technicznej), is both ambitious and extensive.

Several missile systems, fighter jets, drones, CSAR (combat search and rescue) and attack helicopters, submarines, frigates, mine-destroyers, AMVs, just to name some, are enough to attract all major arms suppliers and international stakeholders.

Yet, the Polish MODs choice of military equipment is decided by political arguments, over the technical and economic ones. Of course, the gear is acquired in accordance with the needs and requirements of the army, but the actual supplier has to fulfil additional conditions as well. Strategic interest in sustaining long-term safety of the country comes first.

The manufacturer has to be not only a close ally, but also a strategic partner, who can guarantee the country’s safety in the longer term. Hence the dilemma between the American offer and that of other European arms suppliers. Other partners, such as Sweden or France, are more open to the industrial cooperation and transfer of technology, while the US only shares theirs with a chosen few, including Japan, South Korea and Israel.

Tomasz Smura, Head of the Research Office at the Casimir Pulaski Foundation think tank, told The First News: “Currently European defence is less focused on joint military units, this is still a long way ahead of us”.

“The EU defence cooperation is focused on increasing military capabilities, industry, research and development. European countries have a record of joint projects, some already completed, like the Eurofighter Typhoon jet or Tiger helicopter, while some are being developed right now”.

Preferring to work with Americans, Poland misses out on being part of these projects, but ensures Polish strategic national interest and long-term safety.