Members of a Polish Army unit march to assemble prior to the arrival of US soldiers at a Polish Air Force base. Poland is accelerating its modernization programs. (Sean Gallup / Getty Images)
WARSAW — This year’s edition of the MSPO, Poland’s annual defense industry show and exhibition hosted in Kielce, is likely to attract a record of some 13,000 visitors and 500 companies, organizers say, but the ongoing military crisis in Ukraine will be a dominant theme.
With Poland’s government being one of the driving forces behind the European Union’s efforts to hamper Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, Ukrainian Defense Ministry officials and industry representatives are scheduled to appear at the show, while Russian policymakers and defense companies are unlikely to attend.
This year’s 22nd edition of the event, whose organizers want it to be the largest defense industry show in this part of Europe, will be held as the Polish government announces an acceleration of military modernization efforts. By 2022, Poland is aiming to spend 130 billion zloty (US $40.9 billion) to acquire new weapons and equipment, with a number of procurements underway. While the program was unveiled long before Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, local analysts said Moscow’s aggression toward Poland’s eastern neighbor has further convinced policymakers in Warsaw on the need to upgrade the armed forces.
The strategy to boost Poland’s military modernization projects was announced by Deputy Defense Minister Czeslaw Mroczek on Aug. 27 at the first session of the Polish parliament after the summer break.
“In the year 2015 we will complete the key procurements which will reinforce the combat capacity of our armed forces. We will complete the procurement to acquire an air defense system; we will acquire multitask combat support helicopters, as well as a range of unmanned systems. This will significantly improve our combat capability.”
The three procurements are the largest in the pipeline for Poland. The purchase of new short-, mid- and long-range missiles designed to overhaul the country’s anti-missile and air defense system is worth up to 26.5 billion zloty, according to local daily Rzeczpospolita.
The helicopter tender, under which the Defense Ministry is planning to buy 70 helos in different variants, is estimated to total 8 billion zloty. These include 48 transport helicopters for the land forces; the Air Force and Navy will obtain 10 and six search-and-rescue helos, respectively; and the Navy is also to receive six anti-submarine machines.
The ministry also plans to buy several hundred drones of various types by 2016, with acquisitions expected to be worth about 3 billion zloty. The UAVs will include medium-altitude long-endurance drones, including 12 UAVs fitted for reconnaissance and precision strike.
While many of the procurements could be awarded to foreign defense manufacturers, such as the Eurosam consortium and Raytheon, which compete for the Polish air defense deal, Warsaw wants to ensure that local manufacturers are involved in the largest contracts to enable transfer of technology and know-how.
“The second important objective, in addition to bolstering the capabilities of the armed forces … is to increase the capacities of Polish scientific and industrial [entities] in the field of military technologies,” Mroczek said. “These … billions of zloty which Poland will earmark for the technical modernization program in the next years is a huge opportunity for Polish science, for Poland’s defense industry.”
A number of foreign defense players collaborate with Poland-based entities, such as the state-run Polish Defense Holding, on major procurements. Some operate local production facilities, with Sikorsky’s PZL Mielec and AgustaWestland’s PZL Swidnik plants serving as examples. However, some Polish politicians say this is not enough and have proposed the Defense Ministry be required to earmark a significant portion of military acquisition expenditure for Polish producers.
The Polish Peasants’ Party (PSL), the smaller of the two coalition partners in Poland’s government, submitted a draft bill Aug. 26 that could tilt the country’s defense spending in favor of local manufacturers.
Under the draft bill, 70 percent of Poland’s spending on new weapon and equipment acquisition would be allocated to Polish defense companies.
“The time frame in which we are submitting the draft is not coincidental because, on the one hand, we have a crisis in eastern Ukraine, and, on the other hand, we are discussing increasing financing for the Polish Army to 2 percent of the [gross domestic product],” said Krzysztof Kosinski, a spokesperson for the PSL party.
Meanwhile, the draft bill has not secured the official support of the main party in Poland’s government, the Civic Platform.
Delegations from 26 countries have announced their presence at the MSPO, with Eastern European countries largely represented, but also delegations from Western European states such as Germany, France and Spain, and Middle Eastern, Asian, African and South American countries scheduled to appear.
The 500 manufacturers that will present their products include producers of armored vehicles, aircraft, missiles and explosives, naval equipment, air defense systems, weapons and IT equipment, according to data from the event’s organizers. ■