The Polish MoD envisions expenditure on the level of €123Bn in the period of 2021-2035 for further development of the Polish Armed Forces and enhancement of the country’s security. The new Technical Modernisation Plan (TMP), which was presented in October 2019, outlined a number of major procurement programmes, which will affect every branch of the Armed Forces and significantly change its posture and operational capabilities.
The new TMP will cover the period of 15 years, which is 5 years longer in comparison to the previous one, that was announced early 2019. According to Mariusz Blaszczak, Polish Minister of Defence, the decision to extend the document’s timeline was taken in order to make the process of modernisation of the Armed Forces more effective and to simplify procurement procedures. “Acquisition contracts are complicated and costly. They require much work. Extension of the planning period allows us to sign multi-annual agreements”, said Blaszczak.
New Aerial Combat Capabilities
Referring to the most important modernisation programmes, Blaszczak indicated HARPIA, under which Poland will procure 32 F-35A LIGHTNING II 5th generation multirole fighter aircraft, as the one, which will have the biggest impact on the country’s security. “We’ve already commenced the negotiation process with the US government, right after the Congress approved the acquisition. The finalisation of the biggest procurement contract in Poland’s history, is a matter of time”, said Blaszczak.
The HARPIA programme was announced late 2018 and described as a necessary investment in modernisation of Poland’s combat aircraft fleet. Although initially the MoD intended to select the preferred platform through an open, international competition, the department eventually decided to quit this process as in Spring 2019 declared that it will procure US-manufactured jets and sent an official Letter of Request to the US Department of Defence in preparation to the anticipated procurement.
The future fleet of F-35s will replace legacy Soviet-era aircraft, such as Su-22 bombers/fighters and MiG-29 fighters, which no longer meet the requirements of the modern battlefield and due to their worsening technical condition, prove to be incapable of providing required operational capabilities. Furthermore, their future use could become hazardous for pilots, who risk being harmed in case of any accidents which could take place during future operational or training flights.
Although at this point Poland declares its ambition to procure only 32 F-35 fighter jets, some MoD officials have already indicated that the fleet of Polish 5th generation aircraft could increase in the future. Wojciech Skurkiewicz, the Secretary of State at the department, suggested that Poland might decide to acquire an additional batch of 16 F-35s at the later date.
However, it is not sure if the MoD will eventually decide to increase the number of F-35 fighter jets in the future, as the new TMP outlines also the requirement for an additional batch of F-16 multirole aircraft, which are quite older and less capable, but at the same time more affordable. Although it was not explained immediately, which variant of the aircraft will be eventually procured, it became obvious that these fighters would supplement the fleet of 48 F-16C/D Block 52+ jets, that are currently operated by the Polish Air Force.
The head of the Polish MoD also announced that in addition to the HARPIA programme, Poland will also launch another procurement project, called “Harpi Szpon”, which, according to the department, will enhance the combat capabilities of the F-35 fighter jets. “Poland will apply to join the Loyal Wingman programme, which will lead to the design and development of a new stealth, unmanned aircraft”, said Blaszczak.
He added that “such drone will learn from the pilot’s reactions as early as during the training process. Its core reason is to jointly engage in reconnaissance or combat operations. While remaining under the control of the pilot, the drone will be able to attack enemy’s well protected targets (…) not putting the operator at risk. The use of such systems, which are a combination of manned and unmanned platforms, will increase striking capabilities by carrying a wide range of precision munitions or bombs”.
Improving Reconnaissance Capabilities
Under the new TMP Poland will significantly enhance its capabilities related to satellite and imagery reconnaissance, improving situational awareness on all levels of the chain of command, as well as providing commanders with all kinds of data necessary to effectively operate their forces on the battlefield.
“The modern battlefield relies primarily on data. That is why we drew up a programme for complex development of our capabilities of multi-level, integrated, satellite- and imagery-based reconnaissance. Under the OBSERWATOR programme the Polish Armed Forces will acquire satellites, micro satellites, reconnaissance aircraft and a wide range of UAVs, information gathered by which will be collected and analysed in an imagery reconnaissance centre and used by soldiers during their operations”, said Mariusz Blaszczak.
The requirement of the Polish Armed Forces for the integrated, complex reconnaissance system was also identified by Lieutenant General Rajmund Andrzejczak, Chief of the General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces, who said that “satellites are an example of moving towards a new, aside from cyber, warfare domain, that is, Space. We have aspirations to make sure that reconnaissance systems installed in observation satellites, as well as micro satellites, enhance situational awareness and become an integral part of the Armed Forces and their ISR systems, as soon as possible.”
Andrzejczak also made a point about the planned digitalisation of the Polish Armed Forces, the process which will see cyber and space domains will work hand in hand. “We anticipate a complete digitalisation of our combat platforms, in a move to walk away from analogue systems. We want to balance these systems, which will be included in the digital and cyber transformation, with those, which are already available. Results of past exercises, even those concluded in big distances and with high intensity, gave us the reason for the enhancement of satellite communication systems, which are included as part of particular [modernisation] programmes. Without such communication and these capabilities, we’re not able to provide an effective command system.”
New Air and Missile Defence Assets
The Polish MoD confirmed its intention to continue the modernisation of country’s medium and short range air-and-missile defence assets by procurement of new systems under the WISLA and NAREW programme. In the first phase of the WISLA programme Poland plans to procure two PATRIOT-based batteries in the initial, 3+ configuration, along with the Northrop Grumman-developed IAMD Battle Command System (IBCS) and 208 PAC-3 MSE missiles from Lockheed Martin. The Letter of Acceptance (LoA) regarding this acquisition was signed on 28 March 2018. Deliveries are expected by 2022 and Initial Operation Capability (IOC) between 2023-2024. The second phase of the programme, which calls for the procurement of additional 6 PATRIOT batteries, is under negotiations.
The WISLA programme will also see the purchase of a new 360˚ AESA-GaN radar, in the same configuration as the future US Army’s radar system, although the MoD is aware of the fact that the eventual acquisition of the current 90˚ sector scan radar from Raytheon, would be a more affordable option. Poland is also yet to decide on the future low-cost interceptor, which will supplement the PAC-3 MSE missile. In this regard Raytheon’s SKYCEPTOR was considered as the most likely solution, however, MBDA’s Common Anti-Air Modular Missile-Extended Range (CAMM-ER) interceptor is said to also be taken into consideration.
NAREW is intended to be the middle part of the future Polish AMD system, complementing WISLA and PILICA (VSHORAD) systems. The MoD identifies a requirement for 19 batteries of the short-range AMD system, which will be used to protect particular, highly important assets, such as critical infrastructure, C2 centres or manoeuvring Army’s units.
The NAREW system is expected to utilise the IBCS command system, therefore making it interoperable with WISLA/PATRIOT batteries, and allowing to create an integrated medium/short-range AMD system functioning under one command structure. NAREW will replace currently operated, legacy 2K12 KUB and 9K33 OSA AMD systems.
As of today, a number of manufacturers have shown their interest in the Polish NAREW programme, declaring readiness to present their products and submitting complete offers, which aside from the AMD systems would also include transfer of technology – as Poland wishes to set up a local production of the new system – as well as industrial cooperation. However, less than a handful of companies are actually being considered as the frontrunners for the future contract, including Raytheon/Kongsberg and MBDA-UK.
The former consortium is willing to offer Poland its proven and globally popular National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS), which has already been procured by eleven countries, such as the U.S., Norway, Finland, Spain, The Netherlands, Oman, Lithuania, Indonesia, Australia, Qatar and one undisclosed country.
The NASAMS utilises a number of technology solutions, which are proven and affordable, such as the AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles, which are already operated by the Polish Air Force. The manufacturer also states its willingness to set up a partnership with a number of local companies in order to transfer as much of the production, maintenance and overhaul processes directly to Poland, as possible.
Both manufacturers forming the consortium have already a rich experience in cooperation with the Polish MoD and its Armed Forces. Raytheon will play an important role in the implementation of the WISLA programme, providing a number of technology solutions, which will enhance the country’s capabilities to defeat a number of aerial threats at medium distances. Kongsberg has been active on the local market for many years now. The manufacturer offers a range of its products, such as the Naval Strike Missile, which forms the core of the Polish Navy’s Naval Rocket Unit subordinate to the 3rd Ship Flotilla.
Another potential favourite in the NAREW competition is MBDA-UK, which is offering its proven CAMM family of surface-to-air missiles integrated into the IBCS-based command systems and interoperable with Polish-manufactured observation, tracking and acquisition systems. The manufacturer has already confirmed its willingness to comply with Poland’s requirements regarding a broad transfer of technology, allowing for setting up of local production not only of particular auxiliary subsystems and components of the CAMM-based NAREW AMD system, but the effector itself.
The manufacturer declares that it’s ready to set up cooperation with a number of local companies, most of which would come from the Polish Armaments Group (PGZ, Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa), such as Pit-Radwar, Mesko, Jelcz, HSW, CTM and WZE in Zielonka. However, MBDA is also open to cooperation with all of the local companies, which could have an essential input on its position and manufacturing capabilities on the Polish market, regarding not only the NAREW programme, but all other modernisation or procurement requirements of the Polish Armed Forces, which MBDA could play a hand in.
Industrial cooperation seems to be a very strong argument in MBDA’s offer for the Polish NAREW programme, maybe even equivalent to the AMD system itself, as the manufacturer admits, that in consequence of choosing of the CAMM-based offer, Poland would become a member of the MBDA group and act as a typical NatCo (National Company) along with France, Italy, Germany, Spain and UK, making a significant contribution to the development of missile systems technology in Europe.
The perspective of becoming a NatCo should be especially interesting for Poland, as in result the country would have a saying in the development of missile technology among the MBDA group, introducing its locally designed and developed solutions, suggesting implementation of changes in the way, in which the group evolves and allowing its own manufacturers to enter MBDA’s global sales market, either as subcontractors or developers of specific weapon systems.
Long Awaited Naval Modernisation
The newest TMP includes a number of investments in the naval domain. According to the MoD, in the next decades the Polish Navy will receive a series of surface and subsurface vessels, that will take place of the legacy platforms which are gradually decommissioned, and enhance combat capabilities of the fleet.
The modernisation programme, which draws most attention, is the planned procurement of a series of modern submarines, which will replace the aging fleet of ex-Norwegian KOBBEN class submarines, only two of which, ORP Sep and ORP BIELIK, remain in service. New submarines, if and when finally acquired, will also supplement and eventually replace the sole Polish KILO class vessel, ORP ORZEL, which for the past several years have suffered from continuous technical issues.
For the past several years the Polish MoD has struggled to finalise the procurement of a series of modern submarines under the ORKA programme, which called for the acquisition of vessels equipped with the AIP system and capable of launching cruise missiles, making it a strategic deterrent in case if any conflict would have emerged from the East.
A number of European manufacturers shown their interest in the ORKA programme, presenting their offers formed around particular naval platforms. These included ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems with the Type 212CD (Common Design), Naval Group offering the SCORPÈNE submarine and Saab with its innovative A26 platform.
However, despite year’s long discussions between the MoD and industry, the department failed to continue with the ORKA programme and finalise the procurement, putting the Navy in a particularly difficult position, as further reduction of the submarine fleet, without any replacement platforms, will lead to degradation of its combat potential. Furthermore, without having a required number of operational vessels, the Navy will find it impossible to maintain a sufficient number of trained and experienced crew members.
Despite many difficulties, the Polish MoD upholds its wish to modernise the submarine fleet. However, as procurement of new vessels won’t be possible in the near future, mostly due to other, more urgent acquisition projects, as well as the need to reconfigure technical requirements set for manufacturers, the department introduced an interim solution, which will lead to procurement – or leasing – of two 2nd hand submarines from one of Poland’s partner nations.
Among other modernisation efforts in the naval domain outlined in the new TMP is the programme MIECZNIK, which calls for the procurement of two coastal defence vessels, as well as acquisition of six locally built light rocket vessels under the MURENA project.
According to the MoD, successful implementation of both programmes will in no small part be dependent on fruitful cooperation with the local naval and defence industry. It is expected that the country will very much like to contract Polish shipyards and other manufacturers for building, outfitting and testing of these vessels. However, it’s clear that due to a number of reasons, like lack of proper experience in designing and building of such complicated vessels, the MoD will most likely have to enter into partnership agreements with foreign designers and manufacturers, which would act as subcontractors.
Land Domain Modernisation
In regards to the ongoing modernisation of the Land Forces, the MoD sets out a number of priority projects, out of which four seem to be of the biggest importance and might have a significant impact on the country’s security. These are: further modernisation of the LEOPARD 2A4 Main Battle Tanks (MBT) to the 2PL standard, procurement of additional Rosomak/PATRIA AMV 8×8 armoured vehicles (in the baseline and special variants, as well as armed with unmanned turrets), acquisition of new generation MBTs under the ‘Wilk’ programme and new tracked infantry fighting vehicles (IFV) as a result of the ‘BORSUK’ project.
The first of the programmes is run by a consortium of PGZ and ZM Bumar Labedy, a member of the former holding, which partnered with Rheinmetall. Under contracts signed in 2015 and 2018 a full fleet of Polish Army’s 142 LEOPARD 2A4 MBTs is expected to be modernised to the new standard. According to the agreed timeline, the programme, which is delayed by at least several months now, should commence in 2021.
Among modifications, which are expected to be implemented during the modernisation process, are: new/upgraded observation and aiming sites for the commander and gunner, improved ballistic protection of the turret, new electronic system for turret traverse and cannon elevation, installation of more effective fire/explosion prevention system, new command and control system, additional APU generator, additional cargo carrying equipment and upgraded evacuation/towing system adjusted to the higher weight of the platform, new fire control system, new ammunition (DM63 antitank and DM11 multipurpose) and day/night reverse camera for the driver.
At the end of 2018, a number of prototype LEOPARD 2PL vehicles were delivered to Poland for testing. During the subsequent trial period a list of technical issues were identified, which needed to be fixed by the contractors. Most of the problems were related to the breakdown of particular subsystems and other types of on-board equipment. Some of them were not even included in the upgrade programme, therefore, they did not go through a proper overhaul and maintenance. It seems that the Polish MoD is also to be blamed for the delay, as it is said to have introduced a number of additional modernisation goals, only after the original contract was signed, which forced the industry to reconfigure the project.
Procurement of new generation MBTs is considered as one of the priorities for the Polish Army, as the service currently operates several hundred legacy Soviet-era T-72 and PT-91 vehicles. Although the Polish authorities declare they wish to engage the local industry in the procurement process to as big an extent as possible, it seems unlikely, that the new platform will be designed and developed in the country. More likely Poland will join one of the international, European-level programmes, which should lead to the development of the next generation MBT platform.
The BORSUK programme will significantly change the posture of Polish Army’s armoured vehicle fleet, enhancing its operational capabilities and adapting it to the requirements of the modern battlefield. New IFVs will replace the fleet of legacy BWP-1 vehicles.
The future Polish IFVs will most probably be manufactured in the country. The local industry, including Huta Stalowa Wola (HSW), another member of the PGZ holding, has been developing such a platform for years. The vehicle awaits to enter a long and complicated process of field trials, which will test its operational and combat capabilities and prove that it meets Army’s technical requirements. ‘The era of post-Soviet BMP-1 IFVs is coming to an end. BORSUK will lead to their replacement by a modern platform developed and manufactured in Poland’, said Blaszczak.
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.