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.

Write to author
Marek Świerczyński
Head of Security and International Affairs Desk
Marek Świerczyński
PI Alert

EU summit: Member States launch discussion on financing joint defence initiatives

State of play

Leaders approved appointments to top posts. At the EU summit that ended on Thursday night, they nominated Ursula von der Leyen for a second term as head of EurCom, former Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa as head of EurCou and Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas as head of EU diplomacy. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni abstained from voting for von der Leyen and voted against Costa and Kallas. This means that Meloni is preparing for tough negotiations and may demand a high political price in return for his party's support for von der Leyen in her approval in the EurParl. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán voted against von der Leyen and abstained on Kallas.

They adopted the Union's strategic agenda for 2024-2029. Over the next five years, the Union's goals include a successful digital and green transformation by "pragmatically" pursuing the path to climate neutrality by 2050. Another objective is to strengthen the EU's security and defence capabilities.

Von der Leyen spoke of EUR 500 billion for defence over a decade. This was the EurCom estimate of needed EU investment presented by its head at the EurCou meeting. Poland and France were among the countries that expected the EurCom to present possible options for financing defence investments before the summit, such as EU financing of common expenditure from a common borrowing. This idea was strongly opposed by Germany and the Netherlands, among others. In the end, von der Leyen decided to postpone the debate until after the constitution of the new EurCom, i.e. in the autumn. And the summit - after von der Leyen's oral presentation - only launched a preliminary debate on possible joint financing of defence projects.

Poland has submitted two defence projects. These might be co-financed by EU funds. On the eve of the summit, Poland and Greece presented in writing a detailed concept for an air defence system for the Union (Shield and Spear), which Prime Ministers Donald Tusk and Kyriakos Mitostakis had put forward - in a more general form - in May. In addition, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia presented the idea of jointly strengthening the defence infrastructure along the EU's borders with Russia and Belarus. Poland is pushing for the EU to go significantly beyond its current plans to support the defence industry with EU funds and agree to spend money on defence projects similar to the two proposals. But EU states are far from a consensus on the issue.

Zelensky signed a security agreement with the Union. The document, signed by President Volodymyr Zelensky in Brussels, commits all member states and the EU as a whole to "help Ukraine defend itself, resist efforts to destabilise it and deter future acts of aggression". The document recalls the EUR 5 billion the EU intends to allocate for military aid and training in 2024 (in addition to bilateral aid from EU countries to Kyiv). It says that "further comparable annual increases could be envisaged until 2027, based on Ukrainian needs" i.e. it could amount to up to EUR 20 billion. Ukraine's agreement with the EU comes on top of the bilateral security "guarantees" Ukraine has already signed with a dozen countries (including the US, UK, Germany, France, Italy). As Prime Minister Donald Tusk confirmed in Brussels, talks are also underway between Ukraine and Poland on the text of mutual commitments on security issues.

PI Alert

KO wins elections to the European Parliament

KO received 38.2 per cent of the vote and PiS 33.9 per cent, according to an exit poll by IPSOS. Konfederacja came in third with 11.9 per cent, followed by Trzecia Droga with 8.2 per cent, Lewica with 6.6 per cent, Bezpartyjni Samorządowcy with 0.8 per cent and Polexit with 0.3 per cent. According to the exit poll, KO gained 21 seats, PiS 19, Konfederacja 6, Trzecia Droga 4 and Lewica gained 3. The turnout was 39.7 per cent.

According to the European Parliament's first projection, the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), which includes, among others, PO and PSL, will remain the largest force with 181 MEPs in the 720-seat Parliament. The centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D), whose members include the Polish Lewica, should have 135 seats, whereas the liberal Renew Europe club (including Polska 2050) will have 82 seats. This gives a total of 398 seats to the coalition of these three centrist factions (EPP, S&D and Renew Europe) on which the European Commission under Ursula von der Leyen has relied on so far. The Green faction wins 53 seats according to the same projection, the European Conservatives and Reformists faction (including PiS) 71 seats and the radical right-wing Identity and Democracy 62 seats.