The Polish Ministry of Defence published the new Technical Modernisation Plan. As part of the updated procurement strategy, which was announced with a two-year delay, Poland plans to spend nearly US$50Bn on the procurement of new weapon systems to improve the combat readiness and operational capabilities of the Polish armed forces and make them more interoperable with NATO allies.
The new Technical Modernisation Plan is set to run until 2026 and includes a number of procurement programmes worth around US$48Bn. However, as the publication was two years behind the original schedule, acquisitions already made in 2017-2018 have also been taken into account and the actual procurement budget will be reduced accordingly.
Based on the MoD’s announcement, in the period of 2019-2026 procurement spending will gradually increase with the planned appropriation for US$2.8Bn in 2019, US$3.6Bn in 2020, US$4.5Bn in 2021, US$4.9Bn in 2022, US$5.2Bn in 2023, US$6.5Bn in 2024 and US$6.7Bn in 2025. The predicted spending on technical modernisation in 2026 is to be determined in due course.
According to Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak, the new Technical Modernisation Plan and all its procurement programmes are the result of a change in the government’s priorities; in light of the deteriorating security situation in Eastern Europe, Poland needs to significantly improve country’s defence capabilities. For Minister Blaszczak, one of the greatest challenges is the expansion of the military presence in northeastern Poland near the so-called Suwalki Gap region, which is why last year it was decided to form a fourth land division, the future 18th Mechanised Division, based in Siedlce east of Warsaw.
Lieutenant General Rajmund Andrzejczak, Chief of General Staff, confirmed that the Technical Modernisation Plan should give the armed forces the capability to attack enemy targets and act as a powerful deterrent to prevent potential aggression or other hostile activities by third parties. For this reason, the decision had been taken to procure a range of advanced offensive weapon systems, which would, however, serve purely defensive purposes.
WISLA on Top of the Agenda
The Technical Modernisation Plan is a composition of 16 priority acquisitions to modernise all branches of the Polish armed forces, with a special focus on the air and land forces. It is expected that all of the procurement programmes will be launched in the coming years and at least some of them finalised before 2026.
If the priority projects were to be ranked on a cost basis, the second phase of the WISLA programme would be the most important one. Under this project, Poland plans to procure eight batteries of the PATRIOT medium-range air-and-missile defence system. A first step covering the acquisition of the first two batteries in the initial, 3+ configuration with the Northrop Grumman-developed IAMD Battle Command System (IBCS) and 208 PAC-3 MSE missiles from Lockheed Martin was already finalised in form of the Letter of Acceptance (LoA) signed on 28 March 2018. Deliveries are expected by 2022 and Initial Operation Capability (IOC) between 2023-2024.
Since last year, a Polish MoD team has been conducting talks with US counterparts to put down all terms of the future agreement in order to finalise the implementation of the second phase of the WISLA programme. A few months ago, the MoD confirmed that negotiations are ongoing and that the second LoA would be signed later this year. In the negotiations, the final configuration of the Polish PATRIOT system will be determined, as the MoD will have to take a decision on the purchase of a new 360˚ AESA-GaN radar, also to be purchased by the US Army, or the current 90˚ sector scan radar from Raytheon, which would be a less likely but cheaper option.
In addition, Poland will also have to decide on the final variant and manufacturer of the low-cost interceptor, which will complement the more expensive MSE missile system PAC-3. Until recently, Raytheon’s SKYCEPTOR was considered the most likely solution. However, there has recently been speculation about the possible acquisition of MBDA’s Common Anti-Air Modular Missile-Extended Range (CAMM-ER) interceptor.
The first phase of the WISLA programme will cost approximately US$4.75Bn. Therefore, the ongoing negotiations will determine not only the value of the acquisitions made in the second phase of the project, but also the cost of the entire program, currently estimated at US$10-13Bn.
NAREW Programme on the Rise
Another important milestone for Poland will be the procurement of a short-range air defence system under the NAREW programme, which will be the middle part of the integrated air and missile defence system complementing the WISLA and VSHORAD PILICA systems. The Polish armed forces will need at least 19 batteries of this system, which will be used, among other things, to protect the army units while on the move under battlefield conditions as well as stationary targets such as bases, command centres or other infrastructures of high importance.
NAREW is planned to utilise the IBCS command system to make it interoperable with PATRIOT batteries, creating an integrated medium/short-range air-and-missile defence system operating under one command structure. When commissioned, NAREW will replace legacy 2K12 KUB and 9K33 OSA air defence systems which have been in service for several decades.
To date, a number of companies have shown interest in offering their short-range air defence solutions to Poland. Lately, however, MBDA UK has been considered the most likely industry partner for the NAREW programme. The company’s proposal is based on the CAMM family of surface-to-air missiles integrated into the IBCS-based command systems and interoperable with Polish-manufactured observation, tracking and acquisition systems.
Since the beginning of the NAREW programme, Poland has had the ambition to create a short-range air defence system based on as many domestic components as possible. This applies especially to the observation and tracking systems, as well as communication and training solutions, but most importantly, the local production of the interceptor under a Transfer of Technology (ToT) agreement.
MBDA UK has confirmed that in case of winning the NAREW tender, it would provide Poland with the technology required to establish a local production of CAMM missile systems as well as all data necessary to preserve the independence of its use under wartime conditions. ToT would require considerable preparations and the company is understood to be well prepared to cooperate with domestic defence industry such as the state-run PGZ (Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa) giant, and lay the foundations for further cooperation, for example, in the form of a joint venture.
Speculation about MBDA UK being the preferred industrial partner in the NAREW programme were confirmed early this year, when representatives of the British Government and defence industry and their Polish and US counterparts took part in a tripartite seminar held at the premises of the PGZ in Warsaw. A three-day event held between 22-24 January served as the ground for discussions about the planned integration of WISLA and NAREW air defence systems with the IBCS as well as a selection of preferable interceptors.
Meetings on this level are the best proof that work on the creation of a multi-tier anti-aircraft and anti-missile defence system are progressing smoothly. For PGZ, these programmes are an opportunity to acquire a wide range of competencies with respect to products in this category and to include our companies in the supply chains of foreign corporations. The Group has high hopes for the completion of the NAREW programme, and it is during meetings like this that we are able to demonstrate our readiness to commence the work on this project’, said Sebastian Chwałek, vice-president of PGZ, in the Group’s official press statement.
MBDA UK winning the NAREW tender is even more likely if one takes the joint defence and security agreement into account, which was signed between the governments of Poland and the UK in late 2017. The document regulates the most important matters of cooperation in the fields of deterrence, training and industrial cooperation, and also lays foundations for the acquisition of each country’s defence equipment.
Poland’s 5th-Gen Fighter
Although WISLA and NAREW are the most expensive programmes in the Technical Modernisation Plan, the most emotional project is the planned acquisition of 32 5th-generation multirole fighter jets under the HARPIA project. The procurement of new fighters was sped up late last year, when Minister Blaszczak ordered Lieutenant General Rajmund Andrzejczak to finish the analytical-conceptual phase of the venture and to set up discussions with particular manufacturers.
Until lately, the MoD kept pretty quiet about the HARPIA programme and the technical requirements for the new fighter. All that was known was that the aircraft should be able to assume air supremacy in enemy airspace and deal with enemy anti-access/area denial systems (A2/AD), including a highly intensified air and missile defence environment and advanced electronic warfare solutions.
It was previously expected that a number of companies would participate in the future call for tenders under the HARPIA programme. Local experts and the media were convinced that the Ministry of Defence would select the new fighter from platforms such as Boeing’s F-15E STRIKE EAGLE, the F/A-18E/F SUPER HORNET or Lockheed Martin’s F-16V and F-35A LIGHTNING II as well as the European Eurofighter TYPHOON, Dassault RAFALE or Saab’s JAS-39E/F GRIPEN.
It was expected that such a vast number of bidders would provide for a tough competition and force the companies to make substantial concessions in order to increase their chances of winning the tender. However, when on 28 February Minister Blaszczak announced the new Technical Modernisation Plan, it became obvious that Polish authorities have already set their sights on Lockheed Martin’s F-35A LIGHTNING II. The MoD chief said that “we want to procure 32 5th-generation multirole fighter jets”, which means that only Lockheed Martin could be a potential manufacturer. In an official statement, the MoD confirmed that the future type of combat aircraft must be able to “cooperate with air components of allied forces”, which most commentators understood as the F-35A being the system of choice.
The new 5th-generation jets will replace legacy Soviet-era MiG-29 fighters and Su-22 fighter/bombers, which are still being operated by the Polish Air Force.
The HARPIA programme has been in the making for a couple of years, but a recent series of incidents involving MiG-29 fighters and resulting in the loss of at least four jets and one pilot forced the MoD to hasten the project. According to current estimates, a contract for 32 5th-generation fighters could be signed in the coming years, which seems likely, given that there is only one potential manufacturer capable of providing the Polish Air Force with the necessary platform, and the prospect of a competitive, protracted tender seems rather blurred.
The question is how Poland intends to finance the HARPIA programme, which, according to some estimates, could amount to US$5.1Bn, which would include not only the fighters themselves, but also weapon systems, pilot and maintenance training, spare parts and the adaptation of ground infrastructure to house the new jets.
On 5 March 2019, Polish President Andrzej Duda, at a meeting with Minister Blaszczak and senior military officials at the Warsaw Office of National Security, suggested that the HARPIA programme could be given a special status of national importance, meaning that it could be financed from a special budget, created separately from the MoD’s budget.
The same procedure was used in early 2000 when Poland bought 48 F-16C/D Block 52+ fighters. Just a few days after the announcement of the Technical Modernisation Plan, Wojciech Skurkiewicz, Secretary of State at the Polish MoD, suggested in a radio interview that after 2026 Poland might acquire an additional 16 fighters, bringing the total number of Polish F-35s to 48, which would be then split between three fighter squadrons and complement the same number of F-16s.
Saving the Navy’s Fleet
The authors of the technical modernisation plan also considered two procurement programmes for the Polish Navy, the completion of which is crucial to maintaining and expanding the fleet’s ability to conduct above-ground and underground combat operations on the modern naval battlefield. The first programme, ORKA, is a continuation of years of efforts to procure new modern submarines capable of launching cruise missiles.
Previous attempts to procure such platforms yielded no results, as the MoD failed to launch a tender for new submarines, despite marketing efforts of potential bidders. Three companies have shown interest in providing Poland with new capabilities for conducting combat operations at sea, including German thyssenkrupp Marine Systems offering its newest type 212CD (Common Design) subs, French Naval Group
with its SCORPÈNE class submarines and Swedish Saab bidding with its newly built A26 platform.
At the moment, the outcome of the re-launched ORKA programme or the details of the new procurement project are still unclear, including the number of submarines to be procured, the technical requirements, the weapons systems, the procurement budget or even the project’s deadline. However, it seems as if the procurement of new submarines is not a priority for the MoD for years to come, and the first phase of the ORKA programme will focus on bridging the gap in the Polish Navy’s submarine fleet in light of the planned decommissioning of legacy ex-Norwegian KOBBEN-class submarines and continuous technical problems with the sole KILO class ORP ORZEL. This has been partly confirmed by Minister Blaszczak, when he said during the presentation of the Technical Modernisation Plan that “We have prepared an interim solution for the submarine fleet”, adding that “We don’t give up on any of the programmes regarding improvement of the Navy”.
Under the second naval procurement programme, MIECZNIK, Poland plans to procure an unspecified number of so-called coastal defence vessels to replace the ones being phased out in coming years and to provide the navy with the capability of operating with allied naval forces far from shore. Despite the MoD’s specific terminology to name the new MIECZNIK class vessels, it is highly likely that new platforms will have the size and displacement of a corvette or a frigate. However, the final outcome in this matter will depend on months of analysing the expected operational requirements and provisioned procurement budget.
Regardless of the scale and pace of completion of the two naval procurement programmes, the MoD attaches great importance to involving local shipbuilding and defence companies in the construction of new ships, ideally by building them domestically through technology transfer and in partnership with international industry leaders. With regard to both programmes, companies interested in offering their designs for Poland declare their full commitment to cooperation with the Polish authorities and local industry.
Furthermore, manufacturers involved in the ORKA programme, like tkMS, Naval Group or Saab, have already shown interest in setting up long-lasting cooperation with the local shipbuilding industry, some of them even presenting plans of forming a joint venture with Polish partners and moving part of their global shipbuilding activity to Poland.
Michal Jarocki is is an independent, Warsaw-based defence expert who has reported on security issues and developments from a qualified “insider” position for many years.