Poland: With “Giant” armaments, claims a New Role in Europe

Poland breaks one record after another both in the volume of armament orders, as well as in value and variety. Before we analyze, let’s see what Poland has ordered or is preparing to order lately:

Air Force

  • 48 FA-50 light fighters from South Korea, making their first export to Europe, performing decently. Light supersonic, with a General Electric F404 engine, Raytheon AESA technology radar, Link 16, Sniper turrets and a capacity to carry almost 4 tons of cargo. The first 10 will probably be delivered in 2023 and the rest by 2028.
  • 32 F-35A fighters (2020 deal) with deliveries from 2024.
  • 32 AH149 medium transport helicopters, with delivery by 2029 and local assembly.
  • 6 Patriot guns (request sent 3 months ago to USA).
  • 24 unmanned aerial vehicles, Bayraktar TB2 from Turkey.
  • 5 used C-130H transport aircraft from the USA.

Navy

  • Three Arrowhead 140PL frigates from Britain’s Babcock, which will be built locally. The Polish version of the ship will carry 16 RBS-15 anti-ship missiles, 32 CAMM anti-aircraft missiles, a 76 mm gun, and a 35 mm anti-aircraft gun. The vessels will be delivered by 2031.

Army

  • 180 K2 Black Panther tanks from South Korea as an initial order with deliveries starting immediately by 2025 and beyond.
  • 800 more tanks of the same type to be built in Poland from 2026 onwards.
  • 48 K9 Thunder self-propelled guns from South Korea, with full support plus K10 reloading vehicles, in the same vein, with as quick a delivery as possible – probably the first 18 this year as well – and beyond.
  • 624 (!) more, with Polish construction from 2026 onwards.
  • 250 US M1A2 SEPv3 tanks (its latest version) again with deliveries starting this year.
  • 116 used American M1A2 tanks for immediate delivery so that there is a direct reinforcement of the armed forces.
  • 500 (!) HIMARS launchers to form 80 artillery divisions. However, the initial order is for significantly less, but with the intention of growing to 500.
  • 122 Krab 155mm self-propelled guns, manufactured by Poland’s HSW (18 of them already donated to Ukraine) with all due to be delivered by 2026, with a possible order for 48 more.
  • Unspecified number of locally developed TOMA Borsuk, armed with fully stabilized 30mm gun, modular armour, fully amphibious, 7.62mm machine gun, anti-tank missile launcher, 720hp MTU engine. The inclusion of the former is expected from 2023
  • 3,500 locally manufactured Piorun man-portable anti-aircraft missiles.
  • Thousands of light portable LAW anti-tank rockets.
  • 300 Used Cougar 4WD Mine Resistant Personnel Carriers from USA.

It should be said that the above list does not include many smaller programs, such as programs in progress from previous years (e.g. the production of the locally designed Rak self-propelled mortars and Rosomak armored personnel carriers and other roles) but also the markets discussed by Poland now. E.g. already negotiating to buy 32 attack helicopters (probably Apache AH-64E), has stated that he is looking for 2 more fighter squadrons, wants more TOMAs (maybe the South Korean S21 Redback will play a role here), is looking for submarines, etc.

How much are all these current purchases? Hard to calculate, but indicatively only the agreement with South Korea for tanks, howitzers and fighters is estimated to exceed 14 billion dollars, the new Abrams cost 4.75 billion, the F-35 4.6 billion. In total, we will say an amount approaching 50 billion dollars if, of course, all the orders or intended orders are completed-evolved along with the accompanying munitions, subsystems, etc.

A very interesting element is the speed and institutional flexibility with which Poland has conducted the negotiations for all these markets. The country since 2020 has made a major regulatory change in its defense procurement system, creating a central Directorate of Equipment, which incorporated a number of other related departments (Directorate of Equipment, Directorate of Innovative Applications, Directorate of Countermeasures, etc.). Along with a series of ministerial decisions, the structure has changed and become more centralized, it has been organized with the aim of simplifying the process (as much as possible), having special provisions for purchase through FMS (provision through the US and financing from there), adaptation to nato standard and with an emphasis on domestic production.

Even despite the emergency of many markets, Poland has managed to force the participation of the local defense industry in several. The latter is structured around the PGZ Group consortium, which owns all state defense companies but also has shares in private ones (over 80 companies in total). This organization allows PGZ to cooperate as an autonomous unit with the state, undertaking all kinds of contracts, developing research, forming cooperative schemes for each special procurement, while it is a point of reference for any foreign company that wants to sell defense systems in Poland, as well as within joint venture will seek a partner.

The problems

Many. The massive change of equipment from the Soviet to the Western concept, the integration into the Armed Forces of a panspermia of systems from every corner of the world, the assurance of new flows of spare parts, new operational tactics, new training procedures, is predicted to be not only difficult but also chaotic. Despite the help that can be provided, e.g. from the US which already stations large forces in Poland and provides training and support services. Warsaw even makes very bold choices, such as forming a tank force with 3 different modern tanks, the Leopard 2 that it has renovated, the American Abrams M1 and the South Korean K2 that are related to the Leopard, but remain a special order.

The financial issue

In the last decade Poland managed to have defense spending somewhere around 2% of its GDP, now it’s going full blast for 3% and maybe even 5% in 2-3 years when the massive paybacks of all those systems it ordered start. However, due to increasing GDP, investment in defense is constantly increasing as shown in the diagram.

How long it can maintain such an armament action is unknown, however. The country has a low public debt at 46% of GDP, it had a good growth rate of around 4% per year in the previous decade, it has a constantly growing GDP, now around 600 billion dollars a year. So in theory it has a financial reserve for equipment. But the coronavirus crisis has had an economic impact, while the war in Ukraine may reduce investment. Inflation on an annual basis in 2022 is already predicted to exceed 10%. Poland still needs to renew large public infrastructures and will need social support measures.

Overall, the Polish armaments effort based on a strong local defense industry, and a respectable economy, can claim a rapid increase in its hard power, taking correspondingly significant risks. At the moment there is a social consensus, there is international aid and tolerance for other political choices of Warsaw, there is an American “consensus” that wants such European initiatives so that Europe’s defense does not depend so much on Washington. Thus, with a positive international and domestic situation, Poland takes its own step in its defense, which, however, has significant geopolitical implications and may bring about a change in power relationships within the European continent.

Will there be a “reverse” action by Germany also rearming (ie returning to 1960-80 times)? Will France follow, which is looking for a central European role with a nuclear “umbrella” to offer? Will the so-called Visegrad countries, i.e. the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, form an alliance around Poland, when the latter – due to its pro-Russianism – has already moved away? Many questions about a Polish route that if nothing else revives it as a European pole, something that had been lost for almost a hundred years.

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