Poland is set to order more than 3,000 ground vehicles for its Army in the coming years and double the number of troops while it targets spending 5% of its GDP on defence in the future.
In an attempt to replace its largely Soviet-era equipment stocks and spurred on by the increased threat posed by Russia following the invasion of Ukraine, the Polish Armed Forces are undergoing a massive modernisation programme, with plans being outlined recently for an extensive deal with South Korea for tanks, artillery systems and combat aircraft as well as local production, transfer of technology and future cooperation on next-generation systems.
A Memorandum of Understanding is expected to be signed tomorrow between South Korean defence companies and the Polish MoD for what will be South Korea’s largest ever arms deal, likely worth more than £10 billion. Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister, who is also the Minister for National Defence, said that the South Korean companies were chosen as they were the only ones able to provide “weapons of this quality, in such a short time and with such extensive cooperation with the Polish armaments industry.” While discussing the K2 tank, he noted it being “constructed with the participation of US companies” and described it as “compatible” with the Polish Armed Forces.
The purchases will occur in two stages. The aircraft and vehicles delivered as part of the first stage will be manufactured in South Korea, which will rapidly fill gaps left by the transfer of equipment to the Ukrainian Armed Forces and accelerate the modernisation process amid the increased threat posed by Russia. The equipment procured during the second stage will be partially or entirely manufactured and assembled in Poland to the Polish specification, and the first stage equipment will also then be “Polonized” and upgraded to the Polish specification.
The first stage will consist of:
- 180 K2 tanks – Deliveries starting later this year.
- 48 K9 self-propelled howitzers – Deliveries starting later this year, with them being built to the Polish spec from the beginning.
- 12 FA-50 Block 10 aircraft – Delivered in mid-2023.
The second stage will consist of:
- 820 K2PL tanks – Built in Poland.
- Accompanying engineering support and bridging vehicles – Delivered from South Korea.
- > 600 K9PL – Deliveries starting in 2024, production moving to Poland in 2026.
- 36 FA-50 Block 20 aircraft – Built in South Korea but with a service centre being built in Poland in 2026. The Block 20 aircraft will include AESA radars, Sniper targeting pods and Link 16 tactical data link and will be armed with AIM-9X missiles with the option for AIM-120 AMRAAMS to be integrated later.
In addition to the Korean systems, Poland is already acquiring 250 new M1 Abrams tanks of the SEPv3 standard in addition to 116 older M1A1s from US Army stocks, with plans to later upgrade the 116 to the SEPv3 standard.
28 of the tanks have already arrived in Poland for training, and deliveries are expected to be completed in 2025. For the battalions equipped with the M1 Abrams, the Korean AS21 IFV, which is currently being trialled by the Australian Army, is also being considered, with the possibility of incorporating a Polish turret onto these vehicles. Poland also reportedly attempted to acquire an additional 58 Leopard 2 tanks, a type it already operates, from Germany, although the transfer of the more modern 2A7 variant was denied due to prioritising the German Army’s requirements and the risk of affecting their readiness and only 20 of the 2A4 variant which Poland already operates were offered with all 20 being currently unserviceable and expected to take over a year to return to service.
The Polish Deputy Prime Minister said the decision to purchase the FA-50 was based on the recommendations of Polish pilots who flew the aircraft in South Korea and said the Italian M346 currently used by Poland has “too low technical efficiency” compared to 85% availability of the FA-50. The FA-50 also allows easier training with “just a few hours” needed to transfer to or from the F-16, the backbone of their combat aircraft fleet. While Poland attempted to purchase additional F-16s, it was not possible in the required timeframe due to Lockheed Martin prioritising production of the F-35, 32 of which Poland is also purchasing and is currently attempting to accelerate the delivery of.
Following their introduction with great effect in Ukraine, Poland has enquired to the US about the purchase of 500 additional M142 HIMARS guided multiple-launch rocket systems and is also considering the Korean K239 to be purchased alongside or instead of the M142. HIMARS is not the only system Poland has purchased as a result of successful combat employment, with 24 Turkish TB-2 UCAVs on order with the Deputy Prime Minister saying they have “proven themselves”, likely referring to their successful employment in the conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh and Ukraine.
Poland is also planning extensive future cooperation with South Korea, expressing interest in their next-generation KF-21 fighter and agreeing to jointly develop future tanks and self-propelled howitzers from the second half of this decade.
To fund this major procurement drive which began in 2019 but has been accelerated and expanded since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Poland, which already exceeds the NATO target of spending 2.4% of its GDP on defence, plans to reach 3% by next year with Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of Poland’s ruling political party, saying the ultimate target is 5% to create “a strong army for deterrence.” To ensure enough soldiers to crew the new vehicles and fill the two new divisions being created, the Polish parliament passed legislation more than doubling the number of soldiers in the next 5 years to 300,000.
Poland has relied on other countries for much of its procurement and modernisation due to what the Minister for National Defence described as the weakening of the arms industry and the loss of “a lot of valuable competences” combined with the urgent need for a “well-equipped army, not in 10 or 20 years, but now.”
However, the Polish Army’s future main IFV, the Borsuk, is being developed domestically with plans for as many as 1400 to be built and armed with anti-tank guided missiles and a 30mm cannon on a Polish-developed unmanned turret. Additionally, while Poland is producing the AHS Krab self-propelled howitzer, which already utilises the K9’s hull and several of which have been transferred to Ukraine, a number of factors, including limited production capacity, the prioritisation of vehicles ordered by Ukraine on the production line and the manufacturer focusing on starting serial production of the Borsuk IFV means that Poland was forced to rely on foreign solutions.
To counter the significant threat posed by Russian missiles and aircraft as has been seen in Ukraine, Poland has inquired to the US about purchasing 6 more batteries of Patriot surface-to-air missile systems bringing the total to 8 and enabling coverage along the entirety of Poland’s eastern border while also entering talks to purchase 23 batteries of short-range air defence systems, similar to the British Army’s new Sky Sabre and domestically producing 79 Poprad truck-mounted very short-range air defence systems.