Poland 2015-2019

PiS expanded Poland’s armed forces, but mainly on paper

Poland 2015-2019 2019-08-27
During the four years of PiS rule, the professional army increased by just 5 per cent but attracted volunteers numbering in the tens of thousands.

Polish Armed Forces in 2015-2019*

Year Number of Soldiers Number of NSR Soldiers Number of Candidates Number of WOT Soldiers Number of Reserve Forces to be Trained The Average Monthly Salary of a Professional Soldier
up to 100,000 up to 20,000 up to 2,650 - up to 15,000 PLN 4,200
2016 up to 101,500 up to 20,000 up to 2,850 - up to 20,000 PLN 4,500
2017 up to 105,000 up to 20,000 up to 4,000 7,600 up to 27,000 PLN 4,500
2018 up to 110,000 up to 12,000 up to 5,000 16,900 up to 30,000 PLN 4,500
2019 up to 110,00 up to 12,000 up to 5,000 29,700** up to 49,000 PLN 5,500

Poland 2015-2019

PiS makes the first step towards a 200,000-person army. In 2017, PiS adopted a law that will increase defence spending to 2.5 per cent of the country’s GDP by 2030 and increased the limits on the number of armed forces to 150,000 professional soldiers and 50,000 who carry out other types of military service (volunteers, trainee soldiers, reserve forces). The expansion plan aimed to increase the size of the Polish armed forces to 200,000 – the MinDef justified such expansion by the need to create positions for the Territorial Defence Forces (WOT). Still, the legislation failed to set specific goals to be achieved in subsequent years. On paper, there are currently 110,000 professional soldiers (in 2015, Poland’s army had close to 100,000 professional soldiers). Since each year around 5,000 soldiers leave the force, the actual size of the Polish armed forces is smaller.

Smaller reserves, but increased frequency of training. PiS withdrew funding for a relatively large permanent National Reserve Forces (in practice, the National Reserve Forces were four times smaller than the planned 20,000) and redirected the funding to more frequent training of reservists and the construction of the Territorial Defence Forces (WOT). The general staff was already planning to increase the frequency of reserve training when in 2010 the professional army replaced the conscription model, and the plans called for abandoning the mobilisation quotas of men who did mandatory military service. In 2019, 49,000 people are set to be trained, compared to 15,000 in 2015. As a result, the MinDef is able to increase combat readiness and mobilisation potential of Poland’s armed forces without increasing the size of the force.

Expanding forces in the east at the expense of units in the west. PiS’s slogan has called to restore military bases and defence capabilities east of Warsaw. The plan was partially implemented but weakened the country’s strongest armoured division. In 2017, Antoni Macierewicz decided to move two battalions of Leopard tanks from Żagań to Wesoła, which disbanded the 11th Lubusz Armoured Cavalry Division and the 1st Warsaw Armoured Brigade. The process of strengthening Poland’s eastern flank will be completed after the 18th Mechanised Division is fully staffed and equipped. The new tactical unit will absorb two existing brigades but will create a new one as well as new support units. Within a decade, therefore, it will increase Poland's defence potential in the east and form an important defence position in the event of a conflict with Russia.

WOT not as numerous as expected but useful. WOT brigades were created the fastest in the east of the country, where due to the potential threat they might be most needed. At present, however, they mainly play the role of an active reserve that supports crisis services. In 2016, Antoni Macierewicz announced that after three years the Territorial Defence Forces he was creating would number 53,000. However, this plan turned out to be unrealistic – currently WOT reached less than half of its initially planned size, roughly about 21,000 soldiers. The current MinDef Mariusz Błaszczak extended the deadline to form all of the WOT units until 2025. Only then will WOT no longer report directly to the MinDef but to the military command structure headed by the Chief of the General Staff.

The army affected by a shortage of those willing to serve. According to the Supreme Audit Office (NIK), at the end of 2018, there were nearly 5,700 vacancies in the armed forces. Many units, particularly in the west of the country, are only partially staffed (they have commands, but are lacking soldiers) and would have to mobilise reservists if it becomes necessary. The MinDef does not make such information public, arguing it is sensitive military data, but staffing problems in frontline units are a problem commonly noticed and discussed by military personnel. The demographic crisis is affecting the army despite record salary increase under PiS (in 2015, the average salary of a professional soldier amounted to PLN 4,200, in 2019 it reached PLN 5,500) and the ministry also launched an intensive recruitment campaign.

the bottom line

Under the PiS government, quantity was more important for MinDef than quality when it came to the army, but due to demographic changes, the prospect of creating a 200,000-strong army is unrealistic. Those who joined WOT included many volunteers who would have otherwise been incorporated into the National Reserve Forces, and the MinDef is unable to staff or equip new operational units. As a result, the army is being almost exclusively expanded only on paper, which does not boost its combat potential.

* MinDef budget data, data on WOT obtained from the WOT Command.
** Planned.

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Marek Świerczyński
Head of Security and International Affairs Desk
Marek Świerczyński
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