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In the Polish Armed Forces, the Navy receives the least investment. Even today, when Poland has increased its defence expenditure, the Navy remains lagging behind the land and air forces. However, the Polish Ministry of Defence has recently started paying more attention to the Navy’s needs.

Currently, two of the most important ships of the Polish Navy are the Olivier Hazard Perry class frigates, ORP Gen. K. Pułaski (272) and ORP Gen. T. Kościuszko (273). Both were built in the late 1970s, and entered service in 2000 and 2002 respectively; both are now close to the end of their service life. Additionally, two relatively new Polish-built corvettes, ORP Kaszub (240) 620 type, ORP Ślązak (241) 621M type and ORP Kadm. X. Czernicki (a mine countermeasure forces command vessel) are still in service. There is also a fleet of smaller auxiliary ships. Some of the most modern pieces of equipment in the Polish Navy are two batteries (each comprising six launchers) of NSM anti-ship missile systems, which were acquired in the last decade.

ORP Ślązak corvette – one of the more modern vessels in the Polish Navy.
Credit: Polish Navy

The growing military threats of recent years have accelerated some programmes and certain decision-making processes. However, the country’s land forces remain the most important branch for the Polish Ministry of Defence (MoD), though the Navy is now recognised as being more important than in the past, especially after the Nord Stream 1 and 2 incidents, and also in light of Poland’s close cooperation with South Korea in recent weapon systems delivery. Once Sweden and Finland finally become NATO members, the position of the Polish Navy will be more comfortable.

An indication of the changing position within the Polish MoD is the contract signed with Saab for two SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) ships, based on HSwMS Artemis, with delivery planned for 2027. Information about this equipment is confidential, but Poland will spend about EUR 620 M overall.

ORP Kadm. X. Czernicki is a mine countermeasure forces command vessel.
Credit: Polish Navy

New Frigates

The most important programme involving the Polish Navy’s fleet development is the Miecznik (Swordfish) frigate programme. In February 2022, from the offered British Babcock Arrowhead 140PL and the Spanish Navantia F-100PL (made by German TKMS MEKO A-300PL), the Arrowhead 140 was chosen, and Babcock became the partner of the Polish frigate manufacturer, PGZ-MIECZNIK consortium, comprising PGZ Stocznia Wojenna (PGZ Naval Shipyard) and Remontowa Shipbuilding.

The Arrowhead 140PL project, based on the British Type 31 frigate, represented a starting point in the development of the final technical requirements for the Miecznik frigates. From the outset in March 2022, the conceptual design was developed to improve the manufacturing and maintenance capabilities of PGZ Stocznia Wojenna with the company upgrading its infrastructure, which includes the modernisation of its production halls, the construction of a completely new final assembly, and new equipment line hall.

At the same time, in separate proceedings, an integrated combat system was selected from offers made by, inter alia, Saab, Lockheed Martin and Thales. In the end, Poland selected the Thales TACTICOS (Tactical Information and Command System).

In the second phase of the Miecznik frigate programme, based on a proposal from the Polish Armed Forces, the consortium will develop an initial design with a technical and cost analysis included. Additionally, the production potential of the PGZ Naval Shipyard will be increased. This phase was understood to have been completed in January 2023.

The programme’s third phase is to build a first frigate – the prototype – equipped with an integrated combat system and be able to conduct qualifying trials. The first metal sheet cut for the first frigate should be made in August 2023 and the manufacturing process should be completed in June 2027. After that, 11 months of trials are scheduled. These will include shipyard captive tests, sea and qualification tests. The overall trial programme will be completed with delivery of the first ship in June 2029. The delivery of the next two ships is scheduled for September 2029 and August 2030. Combat system integration and trials should be completed by August 2033. All three frigates will then enter into service with the Polish Navy in 2034.

Model of Miecznik frigate based on the British Arrowhead 140.
Credit: Grzegorz Sobczak

The Polish Navy’s Miecznik class frigates will be 138.7 m in length, with a 19.7 m overall beam, and 5.5 m of draught with maximum ship displacement of 7,000 tonnes. Naval personnel numbers are planned to be between 100 to 120, with a total crew complement of 160, including helicopter aircrew or Special Forces operators required for specific missions.
The power plant comprises four diesel engines providing power for a maximum speed up to 28 knots (51.9 km/h). The ship will be fully autonomous on 30-day-long mission without resupply at sea and its range of operations will be 6,000 NM (11,112 km) at 18 knots (33.3 km/h).

Miecznik class frigates will have radiolocation systems with increased capabilities compared to the Arrowhead 140. Polish ships will receive three coordinate X-band NS50 radars, with rotating antennas on the top of the mast, and Sea Master 400 S-band radar with four wall antennas, which will bring equipment on these ships closer to AEGIS combat systems.

The anti-air armament of Miecznik class ships will be mounted in Lockheed Martin Mk41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) cells, and will comprise the MBDA Common Anti-Air Modular Missile (CAMM), produced in cooperation with Polish company, Mesko. The same missiles will be used in the Polish SHORAD Narew system. Anti-ship capabilities will be provided by Saab RBS-15 missiles, as well as EuroTorp MU90 Impact light anti-submarine torpedoes, which are currently used by the Polish frigates Kośziuszko and Pulaski, as well as Mi-14PŁ and SH-2G Super Seasprite helicopters. Armament will be the Leonardo OTO Melara Super Rapid cal. 76.2 mm gun and the OSU-35 35 mm cannon, developed by Polish industry.
Miecznik class ships will be equipped with a helicopter deck and hangar for rotorcraft selected in the Kondor programme, which is currently in progress.


One of the most important programmes developed by Polish shipbuilders and ordered by the Polish Navy is project no. 258, which involves the Kormoran class minehunter. The Polish Navy has never previously used ships developed specifically for this task, but previously minesweepers from 13. Minesweeper Squadron have been used in the role since 2000, when they were upgraded to their current standard.

The contract for one prototype and a further two serial production ships was signed in 2013, with the manufacturing process starting the following year. The first ship was launched in 2015 and in 2017, it entered Polish Navy service after manufacturer and qualification trials. The ORP Kormoran (601) is the first programme fully developed by Polish Shipbuilders after a break of 23 years.

The Kormoran class is 58.5 m in length overall, has a beam of 10.3 m, and 2.7 m of draught, with maximum ship displacement of 830 tonnes. The ship is powered by two MTU 8V369TE74L diesel engines developing 970 kW for the ship to reach speeds up to 15 knots (27.8 km/h). The second project, no. 258 vessel, ORP Albatros (602) entered service in November, and the third, ORP Mewa (603) in December 2022. In March the same year, the Polish Navy signed another contract for the next three Kormoran class ships.

Newly-built project no. 258 Kormoran class minehunters during sea trials.
Credit: Polish Navy

The heart of all systems of the Kormoran class is the Ship Combat Tactical – Minehunter (SCOT-M) combat management system developed by Ośrodek Badawczo-Rozwojowy Centrum Techniki Morskiej (OBR CTM, Research and Development Department of Maritime Technology Centre). During tests, the system was significantly upgraded, especially its command centre.

With mine hunting and mine detection in mind, the ship uses three devices: Kongsberg Hugin 1000 AUV, equipped with HISAS 1032 (High Resolution Iterferometric Synthetic Aperture Sonar); the remote controlled Saab Double Eagle Mk III with dual-frequency, broadband sonar with antenna assembly SHL-300; and the SHL-101/TM – a triple frequency wideband, high resolution hull-mounted MCM sonar, both developed by OBR CTM.

In the serial production ships ordered, the Hugin 1000 and SHL-101/TM hull-mounted MCM sonar are also used, but the Double Eagle has been replaced by Teledyne Marine Gavia with Edge Tech 2205 side-scan sonar. The last device is well known to Polish Navy minesweeper squadrons, as all three Project 206FM minehunter vessels received one Gavia each in 2013.

Additionally, the serial production ships received the Kraken Robotics Katfish-180 Synthetic Aperture Sonar towfish. The Polish Navy purchased only one set to install on one of these two ships. An additional set will be purchased to be mounted on one of the second batch of Kormoran class ships (604-606), meaning each squadron will be equipped with Katfish-180 sonar.

Detected mines can be destroyed by naval divers delivering explosive materials near the identified object. To support the divers, ships are equipped with a hyperbaric chamber and 6.2-m-long jetboats. The second solution for mine destruction is to use the Saab Double Eagle Semi-Autonomous Remotely Operated Vehicle (SAROV), which can deliver Toczek mine countermeasures. The third solution is the use of Głuptak self-propelled, single-use explosives developed by the Gdańsk University of Technology.

The cannon armament installed on the prototype has been the ZU-23-2MR Wróbel 23 mm system, but serial production ships are receiving the newly developed OSU-35 system. Air defence is provided by Grom VSHORAD missiles.

On-board OSU-35K

The Polish defence industry is currently developing its own programme of maritime cannon armaments. PIT-RADWAR and ZM Tarnów have been working together on the naval air defence artillery system OSU-35K, which uses carbon fibre-epoxy composites widely, with the whole turret structure fabricated using the technology. The OSU-35K has its own fire control system which uses TV and IR camera, a laser rangefinder with high measurement frequency (30 Hz), video tracker and an IKZ-50P IFF system integrated in the optronic head, the ZGS-35K. PIT-RADWAR has developed effective stabilisation for the optoelectronic system.

The AM-35K cannon is used in the OSU-35K, and is based on the Oerlikon 35 mm barrel. The system is equipped with a belt-fed dual-feed mechanism, so the cannon can use two kinds of ammunition – air bursting munitions (ABM) and sub-calibre ammunition.

Core elements – artillery turret and optronic head – of OSU-35K presented at the MSPO 2022 exhibition.
Credit: Grzegorz Sobczak

The OSU-35K is designed as a universal VSHORAD system. It can operate against aircraft as well as cruise missiles and is equipped with its own BSKO-35K fire control system, however on Kormoran II and Miecznik class ships, it will be integrated with the ship’s combat management system. PIT-RADWAR is working to integrate the OSU-35K with TACTICOS CMS, which will be used on Miecznik class frigates.

In November 2022, a new system was installed on the ORP Albatros (602), the second in the series of Kormoran class ships. In February this year, the third minehunter, ORP Mewa, was delivered to the Polish Navy with a final configuration of OSU-35K. In 2023, the system will undergo a series of operational tests. PIT-RADWAR plans to build two turrets initially to install on board the ships mentioned above. Plans for the near future cover three more minehunters, as well as three new frigates.

Submarines Await a Decision

The greatest limitation regarding Polish Navy capabilities is the number and age of its submarines. In the summer of 2021, the last two of the three Kobben class submarines were withdrawn from service. Since then, Poland is operating just one Soviet Kilo class submarine, the ORP Orzeł (291), built in 1986. The submarine’s combat capabilities are very limited, and it can only be used to maintain crew skills.

In the past decade, the acquisition of two new submarines with cruise missile launch capabilities, known as the Orka programme, has been a priority for the Polish MoD. As a temporary solution in 2019, Poland negotiated with the Swedish Navy to receive HSwMS Östergötland, an A17 type submarine. Since Sweden did not agree to the Polish MoD’s conditions, the acquisition did not go ahead. In 2018, because the Polish MoD was focused on a new frigate programme, then submarines, the Orka issue disappeared from the public domain. The only important and available piece of information is that the programme is still in the Polish Armed Forces Modernisation plans (2021-2035). The value of this contract is estimated at around EUR 2 Bn.

ORP Orzeł is the last submarine in the Polish Navy. Out-dated and defective, it is waiting to be replaced by new submarines selected under the Orka programme.
Credit: Polish Navy

However, the Polish MoD is still considering the Orka programme, with three major manufacturers continually offering their products. These include Naval Group’s Scorpene class submarine with NCM missiles, the thyssenkrupp Marine Systems Type 212CD of, and the Saab Kockums A26 type. Following Spanish company Navantia’s 2021 launch of its first S-80 type submarine for the Spanish Navy, it was rumoured in 2022 that Navantia was being mentioned as a potential partner in the Orka programme.

Naval Aviation

A totally separate chapter belongs to Polish Navy aviation. Its relatively modern aircraft include the M28 Bryza in maritime patrol, transport, and ecology patrol versions, as well as PZL W-3WARM SAR helicopters, which have been regularly upgraded to the newest version by PZL Świdnik. The rest of the fleet is close to their end-of-service life or should have been withdrawn years ago, but remain in service to complete certain unique requirements – these include the Mi-14PŁ and Mi-14PŁ/R, Kaman SH-2G Super Seasprite (ship-based helicopters), and old Mi-2s.

In the second half of 2023, the delivery of four new AW101 Merlin helicopters is expected to take place. According to the contract signed in 2019, Leonardo is expected to deliver these aircraft by 2022, however, due to COVID lock-downs and broken supply chains, delivery is delayed. The Merlins are intended to be used on anti-submarine, SAR and combat SAR operations.

AW101 for the Polish Navy during flight tests in Yeovil, UK.
Credit: Leonardo Helicopters

The equipment foreseen for these aircraft has not been revealed, except for the low-frequency dipping sonar Folding Light Acoustic System for Helicopters (FLASH) delivered by Thales. Leonardo’s Seaspray series 7 multi-mode Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar fairing can be observed under the fuselages of Polish Merlins tested in Yeovil, UK.

All four helicopters are now in the flight test phase of the programme. Pilots have passed theoretical training, and are currently training on AW101 flight simulators in Norway. Operators of the Thales anti-submarine systems are undergoing training in France.
With 10 Mi-14s in need of replacement, in addition to these four AW101 aircraft, more Merlins can be expected in the near future.

Besides its fleet of anti-submarine and combat search-and-rescue (CSAR), the Polish Navy needs lighter ship-based helicopters, which will be purchased under the Kondor programme. The Polish MoD plans to procure four to eight helicopters with maximum take-off weight (MOTW) of up to 6,500 kg to replace the Kaman SH-2Gs received together with Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates. Included in the potential offers are the Bell UH-1 Venom, Airbus Helicopters AS 565 and Leonardo AW159. Helicopters purchased in the Kondor programme will be operated from Miecznik frigates.

SH-2G Sea Sprite helicopters should be replaced soon as part of the Perkoz programme of onboard based helicopters for the Polish Navy.
Credit: Polish Navy/Michał Pietrzak

The Polish Navy also plans to purchase tactical, medium-range UAVs in the Gryf programme. The Defence Ministry is keeping silent about this procurement process, however, during MSPO 2022, two potential offers were presented. WB Group signed an agreement with British joint-venture company U-TacS (Elbit Systems and Thales) to jointly offer the Watchkeeper X UAV. The other was the Falco EVO offered by Leonardo.

Elsewhere, some topics have disappeared from public discussions and one of them is the requirement for fixed-wing aircraft with anti-submarine warfare capability. In 2017, the Polish Armament Inspectorate opened a procedure concerning the potential acquisition of three maritime patrol/anti-submarine warfare (MPA/ASW) fixed-wing aircraft with a delivery schedule starting in 2019.

Grzegorz Sobczak