Updated: This story has been updated to identify the name of the Polish newspaper where news of rocky discussions between the U.S. and Poland over the Patriot deal were first reported. This story has also been updated to add comment from Northrop Grumman.
WASHINGTON — Poland's plan to buy Patriot air-and-missile defense systems from the U.S. Army could be headed toward derailment following recent discussions between the two governments on how much technology can actually be shared with Poland and when the Eastern European country can expect delivery of the systems it wants.
Poland appeared to be making headway with the U.S. government several months ago when it announced in March that it was submitting a revised letter of request to the U.S. for eight Raytheon-made Patriot air-and-missile defense batteries for its Wisla program and hoped to finalize a contract by November.
But the odds of signing a contract for Patriot by year's end are looking less and less likely, according to Polish newspaper Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, which first reported the news of a meeting last week between Poland's Deputy Minister Bartosz Kownacki and U.S. Defense Department officials in the United States. Reports indicate the two governments reached an impasse over the United States' alleged refusal to transfer certain key technologies Poland would like to acquire as part of the Patriot deal.
Poland announced a year ago that it wanted to buy Raytheon-made Patriot batteries, but not the current configuration offered on the international market. Instead, the country's defense minister surprised everyone involved when he said Poland wanted Patriot with the Northrop Grumman-developed Integrated Battle Command System (IBCS) intended for the U.S. Army's future Integrated Air-and-Missile Defense (IAMD) system that will replace Patriot.
The major problem with such a request is that the U.S. Army has yet to field IBCS and is now substantially delayed by four years and won't reach an initial operational capability until the third quarter of fiscal year 2022.
Poland wants its first two systems in 2019. Raytheon is said to have come up with an interim solution for the Patriot batteries that are scheduled to be fielded before IBCS.
But even if Poland were to eventually get IBCS, potentially even procuring it before the U.S. Army, the U.S. government, according to reports, won't be sharing the technology with the Poles, which goes against the country’s goals to build its defense industrial base in a meaningful way.
"It’s a difficult challenge ahead of us," Poland’s Deputy Minister of National Defense Tomasz Szatkowski, told Defense News in a June 23 interview.
"We want to build such a system and we would like to build it with our key ally, meaning the U.S. At the same time, this is a very difficult chapter in development of those systems. We would like to procure a system which will be in service for many decades. We would like to buy a system that would be interoperable with the U.S. forces, and also, we would like to get Polish industry involved as well," he said. "So there are a lot of challenges."
Szatkowski noted that there are many lingering questions related to IBCS including the price of the system.
While Poland is still "committed to the program," he said, "it will take some time until we reach the level of the [Letter of Agreement].
Raytheon remained optimistic in a statement sent to Defense News: "Raytheon is supporting both the US and Polish governments in the ongoing WISLA negotiations. We are confident that Poland’s acquisition of Patriot will enable the Polish military to defend Poland’s sovereignty, while at the same time addressing Poland’s requirements for technology transfer and industrial participation."
And Northrop Grumman is also committed to supporting the deal between the US and Polish governments, according to a company statement, which includes facilitating technology transfer and Polish industry participation to meet Poland's timeline.
Poland’s quest to procure a new state-of-the-art, highly mobile system that offers 360-degree protection from threats has been a long time coming and a rough road.
The country has wanted to procure something quickly as Russian behavior in the region continues to cause alarm. Initially in the running for the Wisla program was Patriot, Lockheed Martin’s Medium Extended Air Defense system, Israel’s David’s Sling and an offering from a French consortium. Poland dropped the developmental system — MEADS and David’s Sling — from the running several years ago.
Germany and Italy are continuing the development of MEADS and are expected to reach an agreement to build the system by the end of the year following elections in Germany.
Poland appeared to have made a decision in 2015 to buy Patriot, but an election in November upended those plans as the new government opted to reconsider recent acquisition decisions to include Wisla.
Now Poland is faced with having to choose to either delay the procurement of an air-and-missile defense system in order to buy what the U.S. Army will have in the future that will meet its requirements or buy something else that will be available now that does not meet its requirements.
And even if Poland decided to align with the U.S. Army’s schedule, the industrial participation of which the Polish government was adamant be part of the deal, is now said to be slipping off the table.
Poland wants to align with the U.S. military and its capability, which makes sense except in the area of missile defense, noted one industry source. The U.S. Army has so many capable AMD systems now from Patriot to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) and so much redundancy exists, there is less of an incentive to rush to build a next-generation capability.
The Army is not only behind in developing its IBCS system, but is also taking its time to hold a competition for a new 360-degree radar. Previous plans to procure a new radar was to hold a competition for the radar in 2017. The Army instead will only just be beginning a competitive effort in FY18, which means a fully integrated AMD system won’t be ready until roughly ten years down the road based on the average length of a major U.S. government system acquisition.
Poland has kept other options open during the negotiation period with the U.S. government including continuing to hold discussions with Lockheed Martin about MEADS. Lockheed and Poland’s leading state-run defense group PGZ announced last year they intended to partner to develop an AMD offering for the Wisla program. And a letter of request for information was sent to the U.S. government also asking for MEADS technology and pricing information.
According to some analysts, the Polish government could restart the program -- which would delay the process by another two to three years -- or decide to depart from the Wisla project altogether and possibly refocus on its stagnant effort — the Narew program — to procure a short-range air-defense system (SHORAD).
The U.S. Army has said it could use NATO allies and partner nations help in filling a SHORAD capability gap that it has identified in its own capability, particularly in the European theater.
Yet, if the Narew program were to kick off again, dialogue would have to start over because so much has changed, one analyst said.