Poland 2015-2019

How PiS modernised the army

Poland 2015-2019 2019-08-21
From 2015 to 2019, the Ministry of Defence launched several key defence programmes, but failed to push through a technological breakthrough in the army.

The largest armaments contracts signed by the PiS government
The largest armaments contracts signed by the PiS government
Poland 2015-2019

Changing priorities of modernisation. The PiS government inherited the "Technical Modernisation Programme 2013-2022" from the PO-PSL government, which it had criticised before the election. After coming to power, PiS dismissed a part of the program's stipulations. It questioned, for instance, the order for 50 multi-purpose helicopters for the army, the construction of Czapla- and Miecznik-class surface ships and Orka-class submarines. This slowed down the modernisation of aeromobile troops and led to the collapse of the Polish navy. In addition, the style in which the government broke off the planned contract for the French helicopters, and MinDef’s meandering regarding the order for submarines wrecked relations with France and, to a lesser extent, with Germany and Sweden. At the end of the PiS term, the government bought eight helicopters for special forces and the navy; contracts for the navy, however, did not budge.

Ordering large systems in the USA. In March 2018, Poland signed a contract for over PLN 20 billion (which had been negotiated since 2014) for the first two (out of a total of eight planned) batteries of the Wisła medium-range air and missile defence system. In February 2019, MinDef placed an order for the first HIMARS rocket launcher squadron (out of three planned). This reversed the proportion of defence spending – three-quarters of contracts concluded in 2018 (taking into account their value) were foreign orders, mainly with the United States, in contrast to 70 per cent of the funds available under the PO-PSL government, which were spent in Poland. The best example of the fact that US suppliers are given preference was the order for fifth-generation F-35 aircraft, placed without a tender procedure. The cost of that contract might be compared to the cost for the first phase of the Wisła system.

12 billion for artillery and tanks. It was the second-largest (after air defence) investment package in the last four years. PiS continued to implement the plan to modernise 128 Leopard 2A4 tanks to the 2PL version developed by the former government, and at the end of its term ordered an upgrade of over 300 older generation T-72 tanks. Despite political declarations, the MinDef failed to cooperate with France and Germany on the new generation tank project; as a result, the Ministry is considering the possibility of developing such a vehicle by the Polish Armaments Group (PGZ). In 2016, PiS finalised a contract for 96 Krab gun-howitzers with accompanying vehicles (negotiations with Huta Stalowa Wola started in 2014), which was the largest order in the Polish defence industry in the current term. The MinDef has bought the first batch of 64 automatic Rak mortars and has pledged to announce future orders.

Selective support for the national defence industry. PiS took power with promises of defending the Polish industry, but there was no consistency in implementing this pledge. Strong support for PGZ was visible under Antoni Macierewicz – for instance, the Ministry revised plans to purchase an Orlik-class reconnaissance drone, so that instead of the WB Group, WZL-2 could build the drone. Still, MinDef worked with WB Group to buy Warmate ammunition and FlyEye drones. On the other hand, the order of HIMARS in the USA deprived PGZ and its numerous partners of what could have potentially been the largest contract in history. Shipyards were not given any large contracts for ships (only tugs and minesweepers were ordered), which would help achieve new competencies. On the other hand, the scale of offset for foreign contracts does not reflect MinDef’s announcements that it is acquiring groundbreaking defence technologies.

Communication chaos muddles priorities. The main problems during the modernisation process in the years 2015-2018 were the chaotic promises and assurances made by then Ministry of Defence head Antoni Macierewicz, on which the MinDef quickly backtracked and failed to fulfil. After taking over MinDef, Mariusz Błaszczak blocked access to information about the planned modernisation process, even for potential suppliers, while the modernisation plan for 2017-2026 was outlined on a mere two pages. Błaszczak negotiates contracts secretly and informs the public about them only after they are signed. Deputy MinDef Marek Łapiński, who is responsible for modernisation, did not make any public speeches and deputy MinDef Wojciech Skurkiewicz, who was sent to the Sejm, made contradictory statements or did not answer questions, justifying his reticence by explaining that the information is classified. As a result, the discussion about Poland’s defence plan is based on incomplete data, and the parliament and public have had only minimal control over MinDef plans.

the bottom line

During the rule of PiS, the government managed to open orders for large missile systems (HIMARS, Patriot), which will offer the army a rapid increase in defence or offensive capabilities. However, the MinDef divided those contracts into phases and stopped at the stripped-down initial phase, which will only achieve limited military goals and will not benefit the domestic industry. The evaluation of the PiS government will, therefore, depend on the provisions of the modernisation plan for 2021-2035 set to be announced in September. They should include the continuation of systemic investments; and should also see the return of projects that were previously postponed. The fact that the only investment that was started and finalised in its entirety during PiS rule was the order of five VIP jets (the models included Gulfstream G550 and Boeing 737-800) proves that political gains took precedence over military considerations.

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Marek Świerczyński
Head of Security and International Affairs Desk
Marek Świerczyński
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