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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Polish Defence Build-up Trumps Eastern Alliances as Bidding Wars Commence

Poland is unique among major European states in that its most pressing defence priority is homeland security. Relatively recent memories of Nazi and Soviet domination are kept alive by assertive rumblings from Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Knowing it cannot counter Russia’s economy and force structure unilaterally, Poland has therefore looked to alliances as a guarantor of security.

Contributor: Defence Dateline Group

The Polish triumvirate
This has been one integer of an on-going (and now partially complete) tripartite geopolitical strategy: closer alignment with the US, EU membership and domestic military development. These priorities have been reflected both in the restructuring of its armed forces, and in the patterns of its defence procurement in recent years. The structure of Polish defence strategy has a number of implications for defence vendors looking to enhance their share of the Polish market.

The 2010 Tupolev air crash outside Smolensk notwithstanding, recent years have revealed a slight thaw in diplomatic relations between Russia and Poland and economic ties have, in turn, deepened. Yet the Polish establishment, in general (and senior figures in the military, in particular), still views Russia as the major threat to Poland’s security. Despite several decades of relatively quiet prosperity, the traumas of the 20th Century and the widening economic EU gap mean they are also inclined to view a unified Germany as a potential economic threat in the long term. This is the threatening prism through which Poland makes its decisions about national security and defence.

As the first guarantor of its security, Poland has looked to the US, and this has largely been through the structure of NATO. As the Western alliance which focuses most on de facto power, and the only one which ties the US to Europe, NATO is the grouping which may most directly benefit Poland’s homeland security. 1999 marked the year of Poland’s accession to NATO – after a protracted application process. Since then, they have lobbied hard for NATO to develop credible plans for the defence of its new Eastern members, and more broadly to preserve the alliance’s original purpose of mutual defence against Russia.

Tip of the Polish spear
In order to demonstrate their own commitment to the US and to the NATO alliance, they deployed 2,600 troops to Afghanistan under the ISAF banner (making them the seventh largest contributor), as well as 2,500 to the Multi-National Force – Iraq mission (making them the fifth largest contributor). Of equal importance was Poland’s willingness – in the face of considerable public opposition and Russian pressure – to host part of the US’ now-abandoned Eastern Europe-based anti-ballistic missile system.

The second prong of the Polish geopolitical strategy has been close involvement in the EU. It claimed full membership in May 2004, and has similarly sought to promote its defence agenda within the alliance. The ministers for National Defence and European Affairs have both made it clear that defence and security will be a key plank of the Polish presidency of the Council of the European Union later this year.

Having cut a check totalling some €22m, Poland remains one of the largest contributors to the European Defence Agency’s Research and Technology Directorate, which gives them proprietary access to research projects in a wide range of fields, including force protection, unmanned vehicle technologies and network-enabled ground vehicles. In concert with France and Germany, Poland has also lobbied hard for closer cooperation between the defence arms of the EU and NATO, and called for a more muscular EU force which can intervene in political crises and be deployed on humanitarian assistance missions. Polish ministers have described the EU as the least reliable part of their defence strategy, and it is one they are most keen to strengthen.

Poland’s third priority has been domestic military development. After a budget squeeze in 2010, more funds are set to be available in 2011 for this purpose; Poland’s 2011 defence budget is set at $8.79 billion. Market research consultancy Aarkstore Enterprises predicts this will escalate to $12.4 billion by 2015. $1.55 billion is intended for FY 2011 procurement; as Poland withdraws from Afghanistan, its operational costs will diminish, and this proportion dedicated to procurement is expected to increase.

Procurement strategy and beyond
Polish defence procurement is, quite simply, focused on modernisation. Poland ended conscription only recently, in 2008. It is still shaking loose the equipment legacy of a Soviet military, and is adjusting to the requirements of a much smaller professional force. A case in point, the fast jets of the Polish Air Force chronicle Poland’s modern history: 48 F-16s were delivered between 2006 and 2009, but the force still operates 36 MiG-29s and 45 Su-22s. Current modernisation programmes have included the purchase of Mil Mi-17 heavy transport helicopters, Lockheed C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft and 895 Patria-built KTO Rosomak armoured fighting vehicles.

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Polish Military Contingents Iraq, Afghanistan and Chad

Polish Army - ISAF Afghanistan

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