Polish Defence Ambition vs. Reality

Babcock AH140
An impression of Babcock’s solution to the Polish Navy’s Swordfish multi-mission coastal defence frigate requirements - the Arrowhead 140 design. (Babcock)

Polish military procurement has ambition, although this has been slowed by ‘piecemeal’ and tardy decision making over the years.

The Polish Government through the Armament Inspectorate put in place an ambitious plan to modernise its military forces with a planned investment of around $135 billion (€115 billion) until 2035.

The Government has been eager to sign defence cooperation agreements, recently announcing closer military cooperation with Turkey, Romania, the United States and of course NATO in general. However, its defence procurement plan, though ambitious, has been catalogued by rethinks and delays. It wants to modernise and have a good slice of technology transfer, which it can get in part through industrial partnerships with international primes. The following represents a selection of its recent naval and land programmes.

Naval Frigates

The Polish Navy has a current requirement for three Swordfish multi-mission coastal defence frigates as laid down in its Miecznik programme. This will be managed through the PGZ-Miecznik Consortium which comprises Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa, PGZ Stocznia Wojenna and Remontowa Shipbuilding.

At the beginning of August 2021 the three shortlist contenders to go forward to the concept design study were announced as Navantia, Babcock International and Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems. According to official sources the intention is that the winning design will be built a the PGZ PGZ Stocznia Wojenna shipyard, Gdynia, through a Technology Transfer (ToT) contract.

Navantia has offered to design the Swordfish around its F-100, of which 13 have been built and versions are in service with the Spanish, Norwegian and Australian navies. The company points to its ToT history citing experiences involving contracts in Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Babcock’s proposal is based on offering its Arrowhead 140 frigate platform, cited as a white and blue water vessel. It would be guided by Team 31 (the industry grouping behind the UK’s Type 31 frigate) which comprises Babcock, Thales, Odense Maritime Technology (OMT) and BMT.

The solution offered by Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) will be its MEKO A-300 PL, a variant of its MEKO frigate family. The company states that it has supplied frigate warship technologies to 19 navies and that “over 50 percent of our exported warships having been built by our customer shipyards.”

The contract winner is scheduled to be announced in 2022 with the first of three ships to be delivered four years after that. All three frigates should be delivered by 2034.

Remontowa Shipbuilding in Gdańsk has been buildng Kormoran II (Cormorant Class) minehunters for the Polish Navy which are being operated in the Baltic and North Seas. The vessels displace 830 tons. Three ships are currently in service – ORP Kormoran (601), ORP Albatros (602) and ORP Mewa (603).

Poland has long identified a need to find new submarines as it may only have one Kilo-class submarine, ORP Orzel still in commission, although well over 30 years old. This requirement comes under the title of the Okra programme, and has attracted interest from at least three international companies. The Naval Group (ex-DCNS) offering its Scorpene, potentially armed with cruise missiles; Germany’s TKMS has presented its Type 212 for consideration, potentially one already in service in the German fleet; and lastly Sweden’s Saab would offer a variant of its A26. This would be an expensive commitment for the Polish Armament Expectorate with early costs putting the programme at around $3 billion, although by the time a decision is reached the cost is expected to rise above this figure. Delays in making the decision on going forward with the Orka programme mean that the delivery date is uncertain, but now likely to be in the late 2020s.

Heavy Armour for the Army

On Wednesday 14 July the Polish Defence Minister announced that in would acquire 250 M1A2 Abrams SEPv3 tanks from General Dynamics Land Systems at a cost of around $6 billlion. The first deliveries are expected to begin in 2022.

The latest edition of the Abrams is the SEPv3 (System Enhanced Package), which now incorporates additional electrical power, network upgrades, stronger armour and an ammunition data link that is compatible with advanced ammunition.

M1A2 SEPV3 tanks
The Polish Army will receive new Abrams M1A2 SEPV3 tanks, such as this example belonging to the US 3rd Armoured Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division which is conducting a ‘live’ firing exercise at Fort Hood, Texas. (DVIDS)

Defence Minister Mariusz Błaszczak said that the tanks would be stationed “east of the Vistula” to “deter any aggressor” (a thinly veiled reference to Russia – remembering Russia’s pact with Germany during World War Two to jointly invade Poland).

In 2019, the Polish Ministry of National Defence’s ‘Technical Modernisation Plan 2020-2035,’ featured a number of army procurement programmes that included:

  • the Borsuk programme: a new combat vehicle based on a universal modular tracked chassis to replace the Soviet era BWP-1 vehicle.
  • the Regina programme: the acquisition of 155mm fire division modules to enhance the fire support capability at the tactical level , through Huta Stalowa Wola (HSW).
  • the continuation of the Homar programme: the potential acquisition of rocket launchers with a range of between 70-300km.
  • the Ottokar Brzoza programme: the acquisition of tank destroyers for the anti-tank regiment.
  • the Gladius programme: unmanned ‘loitering mulitions’.
  • and the Mustang programme; acquiring high-mobility trucks and passenger vehicles to replace Honkers.

Air Defence

Poland is looking to modernise its short-range air defence (SHORAD) capability through the Narew programme, which will replace its legacy Soviet-era 2K12 KUB and 9K33 OSA missile systems. The initial requirement was for 19 batteries which will protect both mobile forces and important static sites.

MBDA has been in the competition since 1919 offering its Enhanced Modular Air Defence Solutions (EMADS) system, currently in service with the British Army as Sky Saber. The offer would be to integrate a CAMM iLauncher with a Polish Jelcz 8×8 truck chassis. The proposal includes ToT with both the missile and launcher being built in Poland.

MBDA’S EMADS – Enhanced Modular Air Defence Solutions is a rapidly deployable point and area defence system to protect mobile and static high value assets. (MBDA)

Another offering comes from Raytheon who, back at the MSPO 2019 industry exhibition, announced it would offer a boosterless Skyceptor system. The booster version is entering service in the Polish armed forces as a medium-range air defence system that will work alongside Raytheon’s Patriot missile system.

by Andrew Drwiega