WASHINGTON — Poland plans to piece together its own solution for short-range air defense using indigenous radars, potentially even developing its own command-and-control capability and incorporating it into a system that will fill its urgent need, according to the secretary of state in Poland’s Ministry of National Defense.
The country has been on a long road to procure a medium-range air and missile defense system, and it is nearing a final agreement with the U.S. government to buy Raytheon’s Patriot air and missile defense systems with Northrop Grumman’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System, or IBCS, and Lockheed Martin’s Patriot Advanced Capability —3 Missile Segment Enhancement missiles.
Once the Wisla program —the name given to the medium-range procurement — is underway, Poland can shift some attention to its short-range air defense, or SHORAD, procurement plans under what it is calling the Narew program.
Poland has wanted to rapidly procure both a medium-range air and missile defense system and a SHORAD system, as the European country has perceived a ramping up of Russian aggression in the region over the past several years. Yet changes in the government caused the process for procuring a system under the Wisla program to slow as new leadership reassessed the previous administration’s decision to buy Patriot.
The Narew program’s progress has been contingent on the Wisla program because Poland hopes to leverage what is gained in Wisla for Narew.
“We hope that next year the program will accelerate because ... the current situation with the SHORAD system in Poland is far from being satisfactory,” Bartosz Kownacki told Defense News in an interview in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 5.
“However, this program is simpler because we have our own solution regarding radars. We have indigenous radars, which will be used for Narew,” he said through a translator.
Poland will need to choose appropriate interceptors for the SHORAD system, and there are several missiles being considered. “There are several solutions available on the market,” he said. “There are two proposals from the British MBDA.”
But Poland is also considering using the low-cost SkyCeptor interceptor for Narew that it plans to buy in the second phase of the Wisla procurement plan. Negotiations for the first phase of Wisla are ongoing and a letter of agreement is expected to be minted early next year, but that first phase does not include SkyCeptor procurement or how Poland might manufacture them in country.
SkyCeptor is a variant of the jointly developed Israel and U.S. Stunner interceptor. The Polish government particularly wants to establish a robust manufacturing outfit to make SkyCeptor missiles that would not only serve the Poles but could be built for export.
Should Poland decide to use SkyCeptor for the Narew program, “that would reduce the cost for Narew,” Kownacki said. “Of course, certain elements would have to be replaced with something else, but, nonetheless, that would definitely reduce the cost of the missile.”
Yet, he added, “everything depends on the scope of transfer of technology for the SkyCeptor in the Wisla program.”
Kownacki said the government is also considering using the IBCS system in some way in the Narew program.
“We want to start with Wisla and then we are considering plugging in the Narew system,” he said.
But Poland is also “contemplating developing an alternative indigenous IBCS-like system that would be useful for the Narew program,” Kownacki said.
Should Poland develop its on system, it would be a simpler solution and at a much smaller scale than IBCS, according to Kownacki.
IBCS recently completed a second round of soldier testing at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, at the end of October that proved the system can be effective in a joint environment and can provide a complex picture of the battle space, tying a variety of sensors and systems together into one large, networked air and missile defense system.
“IBCS’ open systems design philosophy allows for the best mix of sensors and effectors, and brings next-generation IAMD capability to Wisla,” Kenn Todorov, Northrop Grumman’s vice president for missile defense solutions within its mission systems sector, told Defense News. “The system will also be extensible to short range defense architectures such as Narew. IBCS is the U.S. Army’s No. 1 priority for IAMD and assures interoperability between systems and with allied forces.”
Kownacki acknowledged that Northrop has spent many years developing IBCS, noting that he imagined it would take “a long time” if Poland were to decide to develop something with similar features and characteristics.
Both the Wisla and Narew programs, as well as a number of other projects, have taken much longer to get off the ground in Poland than originally anticipated, Kownacki admitted.
“We want to procure the system as fast as possible,” he said, “however we must also take into consideration the fact that there are certain independent elements that need time.”
Poland has never had a medium-range air defense system, so it is building an entire infrastructure to support the program from the ground up, to include establishing manufacturing processes for the elements of the system that will be built in the country and ensuring a robust training program is in place, Kownacki said.
Kownacki noted that he did not think integrating IBCS into the system that they are buying would be the reason for any delays. “I held a discussion with the United States government and I was assured there is no risk, there is no threat of IBCS being delayed.”
In the case of getting the Narew program off the ground, “we can construct the nucleus quite quickly of the system,” Kownacki said.
What missiles are chosen for the system could affect the timeline, he said. “There is a question of the effectors and the transfer of technology linked to that,” Kownacki noted. “When we implement SkyCeptor, when we decide to use SkyCeptor, then the system will be fielded later than if we decided to procure off-the-shelf solution, off-the-shelf missile.”
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.