WARSAW — The Polish Defense Ministry has unveiled plans to acquire cruise missiles for the three submarines it aims to purchase by 2023, amid concerns over Russia's increased military presence in Eastern Europe, local analysts say.
Warsaw is in talks with Washington and Paris over a potential military deal that would be carried out as part of the Defense Ministry's Polish Claws program, designed to significantly improve the country's deterrence capacity.
"Indeed, we have asked the French and the Americans on the possibility of acquiring cruise missiles for our future submarines," Polish Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak tweeted on March 12.
The announcement by the Polish official came following a report by local daily Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, which learned that Warsaw has launched negotiations on acquiring Tomahawk cruise missiles from the US. To date, only the US and UK has the missiles. The long-range Tomahawk is manufactured by Raytheon.
In an interview with Polish broadcaster Polskie Radio on March 13, Siemoniak confirmed the report, and said Poland could become one of the few NATO countries to possess such weapons.
"We are currently preparing a tender for a modern submarine, and one of the capabilities we want it to be fitted with is the cruise missile. As we are aiming to extend the scope of potential bidders, we have submitted requests to various countries, asking whether they are ready to provide us with such weapons. This weapon is so advanced that [its sale] requires the approval [of respective governments]," Siemoniak said. "After a thorough analysis, I decided that Polish submarines should have such a capability, and we have asked all [the countries] which could supply such weapons to us, also our American partners."
The planned deal is reportedly to be signed by the ministry in 2017.
Russia blasts Poland's Tomahawk Plans
Meanwhile, the announcement by Siemoniak has been bashed by Russian officials and representatives of the country's military circles who perceive the planned missile acquisition as directed against Moscow.
Col. Gen. Leonid Ivashov, the former head of the Russian Defense Ministry's Department of International Cooperation, told local news agency Interfax that the acquisition by Poland "is clearly an anti-Russian gesture" that demonstrates "Warsaw's complete dependency on Washington." The official said that, should the missiles be supplied to the Polish military, Russia would have to take "countermeasures."
However, local analysts say Russia's fierce opposition to Poland's ongoing military modernization plan could be played by Poland as another reason for pushing forward the designed acquisition.
"The ministry is hoping that Russia's presence [in Ukraine] will give impetus to the deal, and the Congress will approve such a foreign military sale so this technology can be shared with Poland," said an analyst with a Polish government-run think tank. "The conflict in Ukraine is driving increased military cooperation [between Eastern European countries], and Lithuania recently announced it wants to … join the joint military brigade Poland will establish with Ukraine."
Poland is planning to launch the submarine tender in the fourth quarter of this year, according to senior ministry officials. Two submarines are scheduled to be delivered by 2022, and a third one by 2023, as indicated by the country's Military Modernization Plan for 2013-2022.
The ministry says it does not want to disclose the estimated value of the purchase, as it fears this could influence its negotiating position with prospective bidders. Under the planned deal, a service and maintenance center for the submarines is to be also established in Poland.
The Tomahawk could be yet another major military deal resulting from increased fears over Russia's intensified military activities in Eastern Europe. Last year, Moscow's intervention in Ukraine, and its subsequent occupation of the Crimean peninsula, has intensified Poland's efforts to acquire AGM-158 joint air-to-surface standoff missiles (JASSMs) for its fleet of F-16 Block 52+ fighter jets. The US Congress agreed to the foreign military sale in the third quarter of 2014, and last December, Poland's Defense Ministry inked a deal with Lockheed Martin to acquire the missiles under a contract worth about US $250 million.
The latest deal will allow Poland to join Australia and Finland as the third non-US country to use the JASSM, which is a long-range, semi-autonomously guided, conventional, air-to-ground, precision standoff missile, designed to destroy high-value, well-defended targets, according to its manufacturer.
"We have never had as modern weapons as those that we will acquire through this contract," Siemoniak said at the signing ceremony last December.