WASHINGTON - Poland‘s new defense minister took to Twitter to announce the government was able to negotiate a reduced price to procure Patriot air-and-missile defense systems under what it calls the Wisla program.
"Good news about the Wisla program. We obtained a lower price and accelerated delivery time. The reduction of costs does not limit the assumed combat capabilities of the system. We are on track to sign a contract with the end of the first quarter of 2018," Mariusz Blaszczak tweeted Jan. 31.
At the beginning of the year, Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz was ousted and Blaszczak, formerly homeland minister, took his place.
The pressure is on to finally move forward with a contract after many years of back-and-forth over what Poland would procure for a medium-range air-and-missile defense system and how and when systems would be bought or developed.
Poland finally settled on an unprecedented configuration of Raytheon’s Patriot system, but was surprised by the high price tag presented when the U.S. State Department cleared the sale of one quarter of the Patriots Poland plans to buy. Poland wants eight Patriot systems overall.
According to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, when it notified Congress in November 2017 of the potential sale, the deal could cost the country $10.5 billion for just two systems - that is roughly 37 billion zloties - which already exceeds by 7 billion zloties what Poland has said it would spend on the entire program.
The DSCA announcement only marks the progress in the first phase of the acquisition. Poland would like to see another round of Patriot systems with a 360-degree detection capability and the first four retrofitted with the new radar in a subsequent deal.
"The high cost came as a surprise for us," Bartosz Kownacki, secretary of state in Poland’s Ministry of National Defense, told Defense News in a Dec. 5 interview in Washington. Like Macierewicz, he too was replaced in January.
"The price is indeed unacceptable for us even in the view of the significant financial assets that we allocated for the technical modernization of the Polish Armed Forces," he said through a translator. "We cannot simply afford to spend that much money on the procurement of two batteries and [Patriot Advanced Capability]-3 missiles for such an amount of money."
The offer from the U.S. included 16 missile launchers, four sector radars and 208 PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) missiles.
Poland began its Wisla competition in 2012 to urgently procure an AMD system ultimately choosing Patriot in 2014 but, instead of simply buying what Raytheon had at the ready, the country decided it wanted a command-and-control system for Patriot that is still in development by the U.S. Army and Northrop Grumman called the Integrated Battle Command System (IBCS) along with a new radar down the road.
Poland has also been adamant about creating quality defense work for its industrial base and has demanded certain offsets to ensure growth in its defense industry.
Poland and the companies involved in the Wisla program - Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman - along with the U.S. Army have been engaged in detailed line-by-line reviews of the deal over the last month in Huntsville, Alabama, according to a U.S. source familiar with the proceedings.
Blaszczak’s tweet is likely addressing the outcome of the painstaking negotiations but it does not detail how much lower the price estimate was reduced and what concessions may have been made.
Offset discussions with Lockheed, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman will proceed in the coming months ahead of finalizing the agreement, according to several sources. It is possible the price could be reduced further during those talks.
After such a leadership shakeup in the Polish ministry of defense, there is much pressure to get the deal done after years of delays over the complicated negotiations in order to prove the new leadership can be proactive where previous officials have failed.
UPDATE - This story was updated to correct that the DSCA announcement accounts for one-quarter of the Patriot systems Poland plans to buy.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.