A couple of years ago, there were discussions about defence requirements in Poland, but decisions about procurement or reorganisation of the armed forces were minor. In the summer of last year, matters began to significantly speed up. Many processes have since been accelerated again.
The first sign of any new openings in Polish defence policy was a press conference in June 2021, where National Defence and Defence Affairs Committee of the Council of Ministers Jarosław Kaczyński and Polish Minister of Defence Mariusz Blaszczak, announced the intention to purchase 250 M1A2 SEPv3 ABRAMS MBTs for the country’s Land Forces. At the same time, they announced a new defence policy that would start with new regulations in major national defence aspects. Furthermore, a new concept for the country’s defence was announced.
The most important change has been the clear message from the MoD about NATO support should Poland be invaded by Russia – the armed forces need their own capabilities in order to defend the country during an invasion for a couple of weeks, in order to allow NATO members time to react and provide military support. The other aspect was to bring US forces to Poland with as many troops and as much equipment as possible. The third aspect was deterrence capabilities.
New Legal Regulations
In legal aspects, the Polish Government has prepared new regulations called the Homeland Defence Act. The Polish Council of Ministers accepted the bill on 22 February this year. At first, the new regulations replace the 14 existing acts related to national defence and better organise the regulation system with some acts remaining in force since 1966 and 1967; the second is to improve certain personnel matters; and the third is to increase the Army’s size and funds for modernisation. The most heavily emphasised aspect is to increase the amount of funds for the modernisation of the Army that has increased from 111,000, with an additional 30,000 Territorial Defence Force members at that time, to a total of 250,000 with an additional 50,000 Territorial Defence Forces members.
Personnel and armament procurement costs will be covered by the MoD’s budget, but funds for modernisation will come from the Armed Forces Support Fund financed by treasury bonds, government-secured bonds issued by BGK (Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego), the state budget and profits of the central bank NBP (Narodowy Bank Polski). BGK, which will also govern this fund, is a state development bank – the only institution of this type in Poland to support the government’s social and economic development programmes, owned by the State Treasury. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki declared shortly after that, that Poland will spends on defence about 3-4 per cent or even up to 5 per cent of GDP, in the coming years without any tax increase.
Shadow of Russian Invasion
The Russian aggression against Ukraine accelerated some processes and changed priorities, especially in the acquisition process. From the first days of the war, Poland donated significant numbers of armaments from its own stocks to Ukraine. Poland has delivered over 200 T-72 MBTs shortly after the invasion, and a few months later another delivery of over 200 PT-91 MBTs. Also significant was the delivery of an undisclosed number of post-Soviet 2S1 GVOZDIKA SPHs, as well as 18 of the most modern KRAB SPHs, directly from Polish Army units. Since then, the most urgent need has been to fill the gap in the Polish military arsenal.
Initially Poland would make use of the German offer to receive a number of LEOPARD 2 MBTs. It quickly turned out that negotiations would not be easy. The Germans announced that they cannot meet Polish needs to deliver the most modern LEOPARD 2A7s because of the limited number of these tanks in the Bundeswehr. The Polish MoD answered that was interested in LEOPARD A4s, not A7s, also because 142 tanks in this version are already in Polish Army service. Finally, the Germans offered 20 LEOPARD 2A4s with delivery due from April 2023 with one tank per month and from October, three tanks monthly. Finally, in mid-July, after negotiation with the German Government over a few months, the Polish Ministry of Defence decided to purchase M1A1 SA ABRAMS MBTs from US strategic stocks. Poland will receive 116 tanks (two tank battalions) used previously by the US Armed Forces, with delivery in 2023-2024, in addition to 250 M1A2 ABRAMS SEPv3 MBTs with delivery scheduled in the years 2025-2026.
The Polish MoD has begun the purchase process of six PATRIOT batteries (in addition to two batteries ordered earlier) and about 500 HIMARS launchers (besides the 20 ordered in 2019) in the US.
On 1 June, Minister Błaszczak signed a contract with Leonardo Helicopters for 32 AW149 multirole helicopters with some combat capabilities (laser guided anti-tank missiles and HYDRA missile launchers). The initial batch will be delivered from the Vergiate facility of Leonardo, but most of the helicopters will be manufactured in Poland by PZL-Świdnik, a company owned by Leonardo Helicopters. Deliveries are scheduled from 2023 to 2029.
However, the real game-changer in Poland’s defence systems procurement is the agreement with the Republic of Korea. During the NATO Summit in Madrid in May this year, when the presidents of Poland, Andrzej Duda and Republic of Korea, Jun Suk-Yeol, declared their intention to pursue a policy of close cooperation.
In last days of May, a Polish MoD delegation visited the Republic of Korea to identify areas of possible cooperation. The result of this visit is a framework agreement signed in the last days of July in Warsaw. Poland decided to purchase 180 K2 MBTs with delivery scheduled in 2022-2024. The tanks will be delivered in the K2 version for the Korean Army because of the short delivery time. But this is only a “gap filler” to replace Polish tanks delivered to Ukraine. Because Poland is increasing the size of its Army, the future contract is much wider – in the years 2025-2030, Korea will deliver 400 tanks in the K2PL version developed to conform to Polish specifications. Hyundai Rotem will open a service centre and transfer production of K2PLs to Poland where 420 tanks will be manufactured from 2026. Finally, the first 180 will also be upgraded to K2PL standard. Poland will receive a total number of 1,000 K2 MBTs.
The agreement also contains K9 SPHs. Poland will receive 48 K9A1 SPHs in Korean Army configuration in 2022-2023, also as a “gap filler”. The next 624 K9PLs in Polish specification will be delivered by Korean Hanwha Defence from 2024 and from 2026, also made by Polish Huta Stalowa Wola (HSW).
Poland has also decided to acquire 48 KAI FA-50s combat-training aircraft to temporarily replace capabilities lost with Su-22s and MiG-29s, which should be withdrawn in the next few years. The FA-50s will be a supplement for the F-16s and already the ordered F-35s. The Polish MoD and Armament Agency says that Poland is also interested in purchasing heavy IFVs from Korea.
Polish Defence Industry Growth
According to Minister Błaszczak, procurement of South Korean equipment will have no impact on the purchase process of domestic products. The production of KRAB SPHs by HSW will be continued with a maximum production rate to complete the current contract, but also newly ordered howitzers.
Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, HSW received orders for 122 KRABs with delivery set for 2025. The order for an additional 48 KRABs is expected to be signed this year, with delivery foreseen roughly for 2026 or later. Moreover, a delivery of 54 KRABs for Ukraine has also already been ordered. The Polish Army already received about 80 KRABs, with 18 of them since donated to Ukraine. The K9s will be manufactured by HSW in parallel with the KRABs.
To fulfil production requirements, HSW facilities will be expanded with new infrastructure or even whole new plants. Even then, the number of products to be ordered in the near future in HSW suggest that new production capabilities can also be fully absorbed.
Lt. Col Krzysztof Płatek, spokesman of the Polish Armament Agency, revealed in his interview to Polish media, that BORSUK amphibious IFVs, which HSW are starting to manufacture in the near future, will be ordered in the amount of about 1,000 vehicles, even when Poland purchases Korean heavy IFVs. According to Lt. Col Płatek, the heavy IFVs will be intended to support ABRAMS operations. Developed by HSW, the lighter BORSUK IFVs will support K2PL MBTs with more manoeuvre capabilities.
Industrial cooperation will not be limited to Korean MBTs and SPHs manufacturing. Minister Błaszczak says, that based on KRAB and K9 SPHs design and experience gained by the KRABs in Ukraine, Polish and Korean industries will jointly develop a new SPH programme. Similarly, on the base of the K2PL, and on Polish experience with ABRAMS MBTs, Polish and Korean companies will develop a new joint tank programme. Moreover, the Polish defence industry will be involved in export production when orders for Korean origin tanks and SPHs from third countries appears. In this way, the Korean defence industry obtains an open door to the European market for its products.
Because of a lack of specific contracts for KRABs and BORSUKs, some experts do not believe in the continuation of domestic programmes. Bartłomiej Zając, CEO of HSW, announced that he had left his position a few days after the Korean framework agreement was signed. There is no official reason for this decision, but it is difficult not to connect the two facts.
The high numbers of equipment expected to be ordered in the next few months and years will imply some requirements in production capabilities. Sebastian Chwałek, CEO of PGZ (Polish Armament Group) containing most of the important defence industry organisations says that some new manufacturing capabilities will be needed. The areas where HSW is located can offer some growth potential, however, new locations of HSW facilities are taken into consideration because of protection requirements – locating new production facilities away from the eastern Polish border line, as well as in regions with higher potential to find enough numbers of qualified personnel.
According to Sebastian Chwałek, it is also possible to join another civil heavy industry company from the western part of Poland to PGZ to increase manufacturing potential.
New Systems Absorption
The Polish Armament Agency, which is responsible for procurement processes, changed its way of dealing with domestically developed defence systems. Only those systems which fulfil all requirements proven in test programmes will be able to be delivered early. This is beside those systems such as the GLADIUS, developed by WB Group, which contains the WARMATE 2 loitering munition, and the FT-5 UAVs or PIORUN MANPADS, of which 3,500 have been ordered; these are systems which are already fully operational. In the case of some important products, the Agency approves deliveries only when the most important compliance requirement is confirmed.
The best example is the NAREW SHORAD air defence system. The Armament Agency approved the delivery of some elements of this system, when the complete NAREW system is not yet operational. As a result, the Polish Armed Forces will receive elements of the NAREW with a limited air defence capability, able to evaluate the system in real operational use, as well as perform personnel training before the delivery of a fully capable system. The first elements of two fire units, including MBDA’s CAMM missile launchers and Polish PIT-RADWAR SOLA radars, will be delivered in 2002 and 2023. It gives more time to develop CAMM-ER – the final missile version for the NAREW, fire control radars SAJNA and integrate the IBCS battle management system and others.
A similar process is scheduled for the BORSUK amphibious IFV. The initial tranche of four pre-serial vehicles (platoon of mechanised infantry) will be delivered for operational testing in a regular Army unit to confirm full capabilities and collect operational experience for any potential upgrade before full serial production.
All activities aimed at increasing Poland’s defence potential are largely based on the experience of Ukraine in defending itself against Russia. This is the reason behind the strong development of artillery systems. The acquisition list is of course much longer, but all of that is designed to build Poland’s own deterrence capabilities. Poland is building the largest land forces among NATO member countries as a demonstration of determination. According to the Polish MoD, the increase of the Army’s capabilities is not to invade others, but to show potential aggressors that an invasion of Poland will simply be very expensive.