WASHINGTON — As European nations continues to discuss the need for increased joint defense acquisition, Poland wants the big players to remember that the Eastern flank should be more than just a customer.

Tomasz Szatkowski, Poland's deputy minister of national defense, said Western European powers must look to Poland as an equal industrial participant and not a client state if joint procurement is to work.  

"We would like to see a balanced approach so that Poland and other countries on the Eastern flank would not become purely clients of the defense industrial base of so-called old Europe," Szatkowski told Defense News while visiting Washington on June 23. "[It] has to be done on a partner basis, in a balanced approach where Polish industry gets involved and all of us benefit."

Szatkowski struck a realistic tone when discussing the concept of joint procurement, noting: "It's a cyclical process. These themes come up in cyclical approach. This time, it's been re-emphasized, and we look forward to such ideas."

Which is certainly the case. Joint procurement among NATO and European Union nations is a regular topic of discussion, only to go nowhere when faced with the realities of convincing multiple nations to coordinate on the purchase of a single system.

But growing concern about how reliable U.S. President Donald Trump may be to Europe may drive more focus on European nations developing and buying weapon systems native to the continent.

"The times when we could completely rely on others are, to an extent, over," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after Trump attended a NATO meeting in May.

On June 23, European nations agreed to set up a European defense fund, with a goal of generating about €5 billion (U.S. $5.7 billion) a year from 2020 onward for joint investments in military gear.

"I am not going to say this is a historic moment because you would laugh in my face, but it is an important step," Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said at the announcement, according to The Associated Press.

Among the programs Szatkowski suggested Poland could help provide to allied partners are a next-generation tank development, unmanned systems and military helicopters.

The latter may be furthest along, with Szatkowski noting there already are both U.S. and European helicopter platforms in Poland that "could be expanded into other programs. For instance, we are putting more emphasis on attack helicopters in this review, and possibly such numbers could justify creating a joint program with either U.S. or European industry."

More broadly, Poland plans to increase its spending on defense by 2.5 percent of gross domestic product by 2030, with a focus on anti-access/area-denial technologies.

"We are continuing the procurement process of the air missile-defense systems. We are looking at other low levels of air defense and anti-aircraft capabilities. We are looking at [an] increase of anti-tank capabilities," he said. "We are going to significantly increase investment in strike, in precise strike, self-propelled artillery, both tube and rocket, this is going to increase many-fold. Reconnaissance — simple, robust and reliable reconnaissance — should provide our strike systems with the accurate information."

For more from Szatkowski, watch the July 9 episode of Defense News TV.

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.

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