WASHINGTON — Poland announced a two-phased plan to buy a missile defense system from the U.S. in a memorandum of intent that makes political headway but is no closer to minting an actual deal than it was earlier this year when the country said it would buy Patriot missile defense systems by the year's end.
Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz disclosed the memo signed by Bartosz Kownacki, Poland's deputy minister of defense, and U.S. Vice Adm. J.W. Rixey, the director of the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency, during a Thursday press briefing in Poland on the heels of a quick visit to Warsaw by U.S. President Donald Trump, who praised the Poles for wanting to buy Patriot.
The discussion between Poland and the U.S. government regarding the purchase of the Raytheon-made Patriot system seemed to have hit a roadblock in June, according to several Polish reports, due to technology transfer issues and delivery timeline hurdles.
The country announced in March it was submitting a revised letter of request to the U.S. for eight Patriot batteries for its Wisla program and hoped to finalize a contract by November.
Discussions kicked off following the submission of the letter, but Poland made several unique requests that complicated the deal.
Macierewicz specified in March that Poland wanted the first two batteries to have Northrop Grumman’s not yet fielded Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System, or IBCS, included by 2019, and the following six Patriots to have a new 360-degree radar, which Patriot currently does not have.
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.
The memorandum accepts a new timeline to receive the first two Patriot batteries (four fire units) with IBCS and PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement missiles beginning in 2022 with initial operational capability reached in 2023. A letter of agreement for those batteries will be finalized by the end of year, according to the memo.
A second round of requirements will be satisfied in a "Phase II" letter of agreement to be signed at the end of 2018 that would include a plan to integrate Skyceptor interceptors, which Poland wants to build in the country, and upgrade the systems to a 360-degree threat detection capability with an active electronically scanned array for the remaining six batteries.
The memo also notes the U.S. government’s intent to transfer as much technology as policy allows to include technology related to Skyceptor missiles and the 360-degree radar.
Macierewicz said during Thursday’s briefing that obtaining the Skyceptor missile and 360-degree radar technology is critical to the country during negotiations and noted this was the subject of talks personally between himself and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
While the memo shows a serious commitment between the two governments, the document itself states that it is not legally binding under international law.
Raytheon said Thursday that it "continues to support the U.S. and Polish governments as the Wisla acquisition moves through the Foreign Military Sales process. Poland’s acquisition of Patriot will enable the Polish military to defend Poland’s sovereignty, and at the same time address Poland’s industrial and technology transfer needs."
Poland has struggled over the course of many years to rapidly procure an air-and-missile defense system as Russia’s behavior in the region continues to distress neighboring countries. The country wanted a system so fast it booted two systems still under development — Lockheed Martin’s Medium Extended Air Defense System and Israel’s David’s Sling — from its competition several years ago, opting to choose between Patriot and an offering from a French consortium.
Germany and Italy are continuing to develop MEADS.
Negotiations have grown increasingly complicated in Poland when it comes to buying a system that meets its requirements for a highly mobile, 360-degree protected system where the country would do a substantial amount of in-country, high-level engineering and manufacturing of critical system parts.
And with those complicated negotiations — and an election of a new government that further delayed movement — Poland is potentially poised to see a fully 360-degree radar incorporated into the system 10 years down the road, according to industry analysts.
What that radar will look like also remains to be seen. The U.S. Army will procure a new 360-degree radar, kicking off a competition next year to pick one. Raytheon has a next-generation 360-degree gallium nitride (GaN) AESA radar under development that is already at a high level of technology readiness, so Poland could choose that radar, or it could try to buy what the U.S. Army decides to integrate into its future system if it is not the Raytheon radar.
But since the U.S. Army’s decision on a radar remains unknown, Poland could end up with a completely different radar than the U.S. should it procure ahead of the U.S. government.
Several Polish reporters and analysts took to social media following the press briefing debating the true meaning and significance of the memo and how the deal might actually work out for the Poles based on their requirements and needs.
Marek Swierczynski of Polityka Insight tweeted that the memo leaves much to be negotiated and shows the difficulty of delivering what Poland is requesting.
And Juliusz Sabak from Defence24.pl tweeted while the memo was just a political declaration, he would eagerly be awaiting the letter of agreement from the U.S.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.