WASHINGTON – Poland is interested in teaming with Germany and France on a new tank production, an industrial tie-up that could boost the local defense sectors of all three nations.
Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz told Defense News in a July 22 interview that his nation is focused on developing closer industrial ties with European nations as a way to grow its local industry. Macierewicz highlighted a number of programs, including discussions with the two NATO powers on a ground vehicle.
"We also are talking about producing and manufacturing a new tank in cooperation with Germany and with France as another example of this cooperation," Macierewicz said via a translator during a visit to Washington.
Macierewicz did not go into details of the program, but from the description is sounds likely he is referring to French-German tank and artillery projects planned by Nexter, a French state-owned company, and its German industrial partner Krauss-Maffei Wegmann. Nexter has previously stated a desire to invite European allies to join the projects.
Development on those weapons is likely to start between 2025-2030, Nexter chairman Stéphane Mayer has previously told Defense News.
"It is at the heart of our strategy to propose Franco-German programs, which will be open to other European countries," Meyer said in a June 10 interview. Britain, Italy, and Spain are among those potential partners, with the former two nations close to France through their stakes in MBDA, a missile specialist.
However, a defense executive said that Nexter is not in talks with Poland on the planned tank, which indicates the discussions mentioned by Macierewicz may have been largely government-to-government.
That executive noted that Poland teaming with the companies would make sense, as the KMW and Nexter Defense Systems (KNDS) joint venture seeks a cooperative approach with European partners. The only three European countries which build heavy tanks are France, Germany and Russia.
France, Germany and Poland are partners under the Weimar Triangle, a trilateral grouping meant to advance collective political interests.
France sees Poland as a significant potential client nation, with Warsaw seeking to buy transport and attack helicopters, submarines armed with cruise missiles, and a missile-defense system. Airbus Helicopter, DCNS and MBDA have pursued those prospective deals. A French pursuit of Polish arms deals was one of the major factors which led Paris to cancel the sale of two Mistral helicopter carriers to Moscow last year.
This would be the first time Polish officials confirmed interest in the Nexter-KMW program, although the Polish military has been vocal in recent years about the need for a new tracked vehicle platform to replace the country’s T-72 and PT-91 tanks with new vehicles.
The Polish land forces currently operate about 400 Soviet-designed tanks, and since Russia’s military intervention in neighboring Ukraine, Warsaw has accelerated efforts to shift to Western-made gear.
Under Poland’s previous government, state-run research unit OBRUM Gliwice developed a tank prototype, the Anders, a 32- to 40-ton vehicle, depending on the configuration. However, the project did not reach the production phase, and since then, the ministry has encouraged state-owned defense companies to seek partnerships with foreign manufacturers and acquire the necessary technology.
Military officials previously indicated that Poland could acquire up to 1,000 new tanks. However, last November’s parliamentary election brought a change in government and put Macierewicz at the helm of the defense ministry, raising doubts whether the previous cabinet’s plans will be maintained.
Before Warsaw launches the tank procurement, the ministry is currently making efforts to upgrade the Leopard 2 A4 tanks that Poland obtained from the German Bundeswehr in 2002. Last February, the Polish defense ministry awarded a deal to Germany’s Rheinmetall to upgrade 128 tanks in cooperation with Poland’s state-run defense group PGZ. By the end of 2017, the consortium is to deliver a prototype to the Polish Armed Forces. The modernized tank is to correspond to the German Leopard 2 A5 and A6 variants.
Rheinmetall and PGZ are also collaborating on a program to develop a new armored vehicle for the Polish Armed Forces. In 2015, the two companies unveiled plans to develop a six-wheel-drive armored vehicle to fit "the requirements of the Polish Army's LOTR [light armored reconnaissance vehicle] procurement program."
Meanwhile, local analysts say that PGZ’s cooperation with Rheinmetall on the Leopard modernization program could facilitate future cooperation on the potential tank program by the two countries. A request for comment from PGZ, which owns OBRUM Gliwice, was not returned by press time.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.