WARSAW, Poland — Poland is embarking on a journey to accelerate defense procurement programs to ensue its forces are not using Soviet-era or Russian gear. That effort has seen decision-makers in Warsaw grow the defense fund to buy weapons and increase the size of its military to 300,000 troops.

Under a bill signed in March by President Andrzej Duda, Poland next year will raise its defense expenditure to 3% of its gross domestic product. The additional funds will allow the government to finance several procurement programs, with the majority of key contracts awarded to American manufacturers.

Some major acquisitions include the $4.75 billion deal to buy 250 M1A2 Abrams SEPv3 tanks; the $4.6 billion contract under which Poland’s Air Force will secure 32 F-35A fighter jets; and the Patriot acquisition designed to develop the nation’s midrange air defense capacities.

Under the first phase of the Patriot program, Poland ordered two Configuration 3+ batteries for $4.75 billion. These weapons are to deploy this year.

In April, the Defence Ministry signed a contract to acquire a short-range air defense system capable of firing the Common Anti-air Modular Missile, a weapon produced by European consortium MBDA. A group led by Poland’s state-run defense giant PGZ will serve as the integrator of the new system, cooperating with MBDA, which will supply the necessary technology.

Otherwise known as Polish Armaments Group, PGZ is the strategic partner for the MSPO defense expo, which is taking place Sept. 6-9 in Kielce, Poland.

In May, Defence Minister Mariusz Błaszczak announced the government had requested from the U.S. a further six Patriot batteries with related gear. He also said that month that he had signed a letter of request to purchase as many as 500 M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems from the United States. Poland ordered 20 such launchers in 2019 for about $414 million.

Ties to South Korea

Meanwhile, Poland is tightening its defense relationship with South Korea through a series of recently unveiled acquisitions.

In July, Błaszczak signed three memorandums of understanding with South Korean companies Hyundai Rotem, Korea Aerospace Industries and Hanwha Defense under which the Polish military would receive K2 tanks, K9A1 howitzers and 48 FA-50 light attack aircraft.

On Aug. 26, the minister signed the first two deals for 180 tanks scheduled for delivery from 2022 to 2025, and for 212 howitzers set to arrive between 2022 and 2026. Under the plan, a further 820 K2 tanks will undergo production in Poland under license.

A contract to buy FA-50s will be signed before the end of the year, according to Błaszczak.

Poland’s Defence Ministry is also eyeing the Korean-made K239 Chunmoo multiple rocket launcher.

Tomasz Smura, the head of the research office at the Warsaw-based think tank Casimir Pulaski Foundation, told Defense News that before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Poland had set aside more than 2% of its GDP for defense. (Poland is part of the Western-aligned alliance NATO, which has set a goal that members spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense.)

“Our military modernization priorities remain relatively unchanged. Poland is investing in its short- and mid-range air defense capacities because we did not make any significant purchases in this field for 30 years after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact,” Smura said, referring to a Soviet-aligned mutual defense treaty. “We are also strengthening our strike capacities by allocating funds to new howitzers, and acquiring JASSM missiles for our fleet of F-16.”

But Smura noted that local pundits have expressed concern over Poland’s choice to make major purchases of foreign weapons rather than tapping the domestic defense industry. There are also worries that inflation and economic turmoil around the globe will negatively impact Poland’s defense budget in the coming years, he added.

A switch to Western gear

Poland and some of its Eastern European allies have supplied a large share of their Soviet-era weapons to support Ukraine fight off the Russian invasion.

Poland donated its T-72 tanks, Slovakia delivered an S-300 air defense system and the Czech Republic supplied two Mil Mi-24 attack helicopters, for example.

Despite the small size of their respective militaries, the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have allocated considerable shares of their defense budgets to supply Ukrainian troops with armored vehicles, helicopters, anti-tank missiles and drones.

Those countries will likely fill the capability gaps left from these donations by looking to the Western world, allowing the former Warsaw Pact members to equip their forces exclusively with gear produced by NATO allies and partners.

“Russia’s aggression has spurred defense budget hikes by countries which are on the front line of NATO’s eastern flank. They must now demonstrate a high level of flexibility in shifting allocations previously made to other priorities to their defense,” Michael Werbowski, an international relations and security expert at the Polish think tank Warsaw Institute, told Defense News.

In July, the Czech government decided to launch negotiations with the United States for 24 F-35s for its Air Force, potentially becoming the aircraft’s second operator in Eastern Europe.

The same month, a spokesperson for the Latvian Defence Ministry told Defense News the three Baltic states are pursuing a joint acquisition of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System in hopes of joining allies Poland and Romania, who have each ordered the weapons.

The Czech Republic and Slovakia have also accelerated their respective infantry vehicle programs. On Aug. 27, the two nations’ defense ministries signed an agreement to cooperate on their planned acquisitions of CV90 MkIV tracked infantry fighting vehicles from BAE Systems’ Swedish branch. Prague has long planned to acquire 210 infantry fighting vehicles, and Bratislava intends to buy 152.

While the Eastern European nations backing Ukraine are predominantly sending Soviet-era weapons, the war-torn country is also purchasing modern equipment thanks to funding by the European Union and the United States. For example, in June, Poland sold an estimated 60 155mm Krab self-propelled howitzers to Ukraine — a deal that Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki described as possibly his country’s largest export defense contract of the past 30 years.

“These [Eastern European] countries are now required to acquire more NATO-made military gear. They still operate large amounts of Soviet-era weapons, so it’s a massive transition at an accelerated pace. It also creates various issues in terms of NATO interoperability,” Werbowski said. “In Poland’s case, the country operates German Leopard tanks; it will operate U.S. tanks and still has a number of Soviet-designed tanks. This will create challenges in terms of servicing, spare parts and logistics.

“At the same time, it is to be seen how long Poland, which is establishing itself as the alliance’s defensive bulwark against Russia’s aggression, could sustain such a high defense budget before it triggers a spike in inflation or produces other negative economic impacts.”

Jaroslaw Adamowski is the Poland correspondent for Defense News.

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