This year’s edition of Poland’s International Defence Industry Exhibition (MSPO) in Kielce brought a number of local and foreign manufacturers to present their newest technical solutions, designed to meet the requirements of potential customers in the demanding Central and Easter Europe region. A wide range of weapon systems, including wheeled and tracked land platforms to rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft were showcased, as well as most modern anti-tank and air-and-missile defence systems, which will shape the posture of modern battlefield for years to come.
Polish Armed Forces and their modernisation goals were on the main agenda throughout the entire show. A number of major players in the global defence industry presented their products and sale offers for Poland, trying to reach out to main political and military decision makers in the country.
The WARMATE Loitering Munition
WB Group, one of the largest defence manufacturers in Poland, presented at MSPO some new variants of its renowned and battle proven WARMATE loitering munition system. This included a tube launched version developed in partnership with the German Rheinmetall.
The tube launched WARMATE TL features a number of technical enhancements, including a folding wing structure, which makes the platform capable of fitting into a special transport canister. The system can be launched pneumatically from a tube, mounted on virtually any kind of wheeled and tracked drive platform. In result of cooperation with Rheinmetall, the system was integrated with the MISSION MASTER unmanned ground vehicle. A prototype of this design was showcased on Rheinmetall’s stand in Kielce.
WARMATE TL features a warhead equipped with a daylight and thermal cameras, thanks to which the potential ground-based target could be assessed long before the order to strike is given. Additionally, a number of fail-safe mechanisms allow for the mission to be easily aborted at any time.
The manufacturer states that the platform distinguish itself by high targeting accuracy, ability to use interchangeable warheads, including surveillance and observation, which are equipped with a special parachute system allowing for safe landing and recovery of the UAV, as well as its low acoustic trace, and high performance.
The manufacturer informed that partnership with Rheinmetall was established as a result result of a profound evaluation of the ways in which both companies could strengthen their cooperation in order to offer a not needed jointly developed weapon systems, enhancing their position on local and global markets.
WB Group’s representative stated that both companies would like to broaden their cooperation, and intend to look for other possibilities of integrating WB Group’s combat and surveillance systems with Rheinmetall’s manned and unmanned platforms.
The manufacturer also showcased at MSPO a model of WARMATE V small multi-rotor VTOL loitering munition system. It was developed specifically to operate in dense urban environment. It is designed to detect, locate and engage enemy targets, which might be hiding in proximity of or inside buildings or other urban infrastructure.
The system is described as an alternative to common fixed-wing loitering munition systems. It is supposed to be ideal to operate in places where the use of classic, fast, and difficult in manoeuvring in urban terrain UAVs is impossible, or less efficient.
Mobile Air Defence System from Poland
The Lukasiewicz – PIAP Institute showcased at MSPO a technology demonstrator of a mobile air defense combat system (ASBOP–PERKUN). The platform was developed in partnership with the Telesystem-Mesko company, which is the member of the Polish Armaments Group (Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa) holding.
The manufacturer states that ASBOP–PERKUN ‘is a combination of a high level tactical mobility and rapid reaction, allowing for detection of various kinds of aerial threats, such as missiles, UAVs, rotary and fixed wing platforms’. The system is composed of a launcher with two GROM/PIORUN air defence missiles from Mesko, fitted on the six-wheel chassis of the IBIS robot from the Lukasiewicz – PIAP Institute.
The platform has an independent drive for each wheel, allowing it to operate in challenging and varied terrain. It is capable of reaching a top speed of up to 10 km/h. The suspension system was especially designed to ensure optimum wheel contact with the ground, improving its stability while detecting, following, and countering aerial threats.
The PERKUN robot utilises its onboard detection systems to identify and locate potential threats and lock onto targets. This can also be done by the constant exchange of tactical information with friendly platforms, like other air defence UGVs or radar/observation stations. The system is also able to receive and analyse IFF data in order to differentiate friendly and enemy combat aircraft.
According to the manufacturer, a single operator will be able to control up to 4 PERKUN robots at a time. However, the number of platforms integrated into one air defence system will depend on the wish of a particular customer, as well as mission requirements.
The Lukasiewicz – PIAP Institute acknowledged at MSPO that the ASBOP–PERKUN platform requires more conceptual and design work, enhancing its performance and operational capabilities. Subsequently, the system will undergo a series of trials, which will prove its efficiency and overall usefulness.
In its current variant, the ASBOP–PERKUN is designed as a typical air-and-missile defence system, which is able to operate either in a static, or on-the-move mode. It will detect, identify, and engage a wide range of aerial threats, such as fixed- or rotary-wing platforms, missiles or UAVs, providing protection of critical infrastructure or allied forces on the move. The manufacturer also states that it has plans to also develop an anti-tank variant of the system.
As much as the Lukasiewicz – PIAP Institute and Mesko are dedicated to supplying the Polish Armed Forces with modern, universal weapon systems, both partners have an expectation that the ASBOP–PERKUN will draw much attention from potential export clients and might become an alternative to the popular man-portable air-defence systems, which are costly in use and require fielding the operator in direct proximity to the potential area of attack.
LEOPARD 2PL Showcased
The most modern prototype of the modernised LEOPARD 2PL main battle tank (MBT) was presented for the first time at MSPO by ZM Bumar-Labedy, a member of the PGZ holding. The vehicle is an extensivemodification of the 2A4 variant.
According to the manufacturer, the list of improvements introduced in this variant includes: an enhanced efficiency of sighting system achieved, among others, by the introduction of 3rd generation cameras for the commander and gunner, improved ballistic protection of the turret, a digitial stabilisation system installed in place of the hydraulic module, upgraded fire extinguishing and suppression systems, a new Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) unit (17 KW), new turret-located storage compartment for the crew, customised towing-evacuation system adjusted to the greater mass of the vehicle, modernised main gun system, adapted to use of new types of ammunition (DM63 anti-tank and DM11 multipurpose) and driver’s day-night cameras. The vehicle will also feature a new fire control system.
At the end of 2018 a handful of LEOPARD 2PL prototype vehicles was delivered to Poland. Shortly after, they went through the initial phase of field trials, which were supposed to evaluate operational capabilities and efficiency of those platforms, as well as to confirm that upgrades implemented by Rheinmetall, as the main industrial partner, met the requirements of the Polish partner.
During these field trials a number of technical issues were identified, which required the implementation of necessary improvements. In result, the LEOPARD 2PL modernisation programme has already reached a several month long long delay.
Most of the defects resulted from the breakdown of particular sub-systems, while others were related to failure of legacy components, which were not even included in the modernization plan, and therefore, were not upgraded or overhauled for years. It seems that the Polish MoD has also to take some blame for the delay, as it had stalled the programme by the introduction of additional modernisation requirements, already after the project was launched.
A full fleet of 142 Polish LEOPARD 2A4 MBTs is expected to undergo modernisation in the coming years. The upgrade is performed by a consortium of PGZ and ZM Bumar Labedy, which partnered with the German Rheinmetall. The programme is supposed to run through to 2021, when the final batch of modernised LEOPARD 2PL MBTs is expected to be delivered.
The LEOPARD 2PL will become the core of the Polish Army’s MBT fleet in the near future and allow for gradual phase out of legacy T-72 and PT-91 platforms, despite the fact, that the former will undergo a limited upgrade in the coming years. However, Poland has already announced its intention to procure a series of new generation MBTs under the WILK programme. This initiative calls for the acquisition of a number of main battle tanks, designed either independently, which is rather unlikely, or in cooperation with foreign industry and state partners.
Poland to Buy F-35s
Lockheed Martin presented in Kielce a full-scale mockup of the F-35 5th generation multirole fighter jet. The model was showcased with insignias of the Polish Air Force, which signified the wish of the American manufacturer to sell these aircraft to Poland and confidence, that the final acquisition is just a matter of time.
Shortly after the MSPO, and after months of deliberations, Poland took a big step towards the long awaited acquisition of a new fleet of combat aircraft, as the US State Department approved the sale of 32 F-35A LIGHTNING II multirole fighter jets. According to the Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), an organisation which oversees sales of US military equipment abroad, the future contract for a Polish 5th generation fighter aircraft is valued at US$6.5Bn. However, the price will most likely be reduced during the negotiation process.
The future contract calls also for the delivery of a number of auxiliary components, such as: ‘thirty-three Pratt & Whitney F-135 Engines, Electronic Warfare Systems, Command, Control, Communications, Computer and Intelligence/Communications, Navigation and Identification, Autonomic Logistics Global Support System, Autonomic Logistics Information System, Full Mission Trainer, Weapons Employment Capability and other subsystems, features, and capabilities, F-35 unique infrared flares, reprogramming centre, F-35 Performance Based Logistics, software development/integration, aircraft ferry and tanker support’.
Furthermore, the Polish MoD has also requested delivery of ‘support equipment, tools and test equipment, communications equipment, spares and repair parts, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical documents, US Government and contractor engineering, logistics, and personnel services, and other related elements of logistics and program support’.
The acquisition of Polish F-35 fighter jets will most probably be finalised through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) procedure. This means that the US government will get involved in the process. It is also expected, that US Armed Forces will play a part, providing training and logistical support in the initial phase of the project.
The future F-35 multirole fighter jets will be procured under the Harpia programme, which was launched by the Polish MoD late last year. It calls for modernisation of Polish Air Force’s inventory, by the acquisition of a fleet of 5th generation combat aircraft, which will enhance the country’s defence capabilities.
Initially, the selection of the preferred fixed-wing platform was supposed to be done through an international open tender procedure. However, in early 2019 the MoD announced its intention to omit this process and unilaterally selected the US-manufactured F-35 fighter aircraft from Lockheed Martin as the platform of choice. It was later explained, that the department made an analysis of all fixed-wing combat aircraft available on the market, and came to the conclusion that the F-35 was the best option.
The question remains, if the decision to pass on the open tender procedure, wasn’t actually detrimental. Even if it were to lead to the conclusion that F-35 is the system of choice, a competitive selection process would most likely require all bidding parties, including Lockheed Martin, to enhance their offers, for example by lowering the acquisition cost or add more benefits to the future deal, in order to attract the Polish MoD.
It is expected that the first batch of sixteen F-35 fighter jets could arrive in Poland by 2026, with another one following a couple of years later. Furthermore, the Secretary of State at the Polish MoD, Wojciech Skurkiewicz, has already announced on several occasions, that Poland might intend to acquire additional aircraft in the future, increasing the F-35 fleet to 48 platforms, which would correspond with the same number of currently operated F-16C/D Block 52+ fighters.
Michał 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.