WASHINGTON — Polish Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz said he had formally authorized a letter of request be sent to the US government to buy the US Army's Patriot air-and-missile defense system, during a large press briefing at a military conference in the country on Tuesday.
The announcement came as a surprise to those tracking Poland's missile defense procurement decision.
While this further solidifies Poland's intent to procure an air-and-missile defense system, the Polish media — and confirmed by other sources — is reporting the Polish government wants eight of Raytheon's Patriot systems, but the first two would not have Raytheon's battle command system but Northrop Grumman's future Integrated Battle Command System . The next six would have a 360-degree radar to detect and defeat incoming threats, something the current Patriot system doesn't have either.
In a sense, Poland is asking for a hybrid Patriot that doesn't exist yet.
The IBCS won't reach initial operational capability as part of the US Army's air-and-missile defense architecture until 2019.
And Poland wants IBCS, according to reports, in the first two systems by 2019, which would make the country the first to receive a Patriot system with the IBCS architecture and would put it in front of the US Army’s fielding of the capability.
The US Army is also many years from replacing Patriot’s radar with one that provides 360-degree protection. The service recently put out a request for information to gauge industry capability and analyze whether the current radar should be upgraded or whether it should fully replace the radar. Poland would want the remaining six systems beginning in 2020, according to reports.
Over the past year, Poland has gone back and forth on its decision to procure a medium-range air-and-missile defense system that would provide 360-degree protection. Poland announced in the spring of 2015 that it chose the Patriot system with a plan to buy two Patriots in the current configuration, followed by next-generation systems that include the Gallium Nitride (GaN) Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar and an open architecture that would allow a variety of interceptors to plug into the system.
Poland conducted a competition where Lockheed Martin’s Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), Israel’s David’s Sling and a French consortium’s offering were in the running. MEADS and David’s Sling were taken out of the competition because they are still in development and Poland decided it needed a system already fielded. However, Germany plans to develop MEADS and procure it, and Italy is expected to follow suit.
Poland backtracked on its decision to buy Patriot following elections in November that ushered in a new government, which decided to review all of the recent acquisition decisions of the previous government.
Macierewicz told Defense News in a July interview that Poland’s initial agreement with the US government would be finalized by the end of the year to buy Patriot and that the sale would cover two systems. Poland would also get over 50 percent of the workshare to build Patriot.
According to sources and news reports in Poland, a recent US Government Accountability Office report alarmed defense officials. One source thought the country’s decision to request Patriot with IBCS could have been influenced, in part, by the GAO report’s findings.
The GAO report found the US Army’s plans to improve the Patriot system — expected to remain in operation until at least 2050 — lacks oversight mechanisms as the Army carries out its strategy in the coming years.
And former Polish defense procurement minister, retired Lt. Gen. Waldemar Skrzypczak, wrote in an op-ed in a top Polish newspaper over the weekend that, according to the GAO report, "the system in its current shape does not meet the war fighter's requirements."
The report "indicates to unreliable radar, lacking ability for all-around surveillance, and problems with the software. It stresses that the system does not meet requirements on working without a so-called critical failure," a translation of Skrzypczak’s article stated. "The requirement is for 20 hours, while the Patriot can work without failure approximately 11 hours. Seventy percent of failures are due to the radar. The time for repair leaves the protected assets without defense."
But while many questions still surround Poland’s plan to buy Patriot, Raytheon sees Poland’s formal request as "an important milestone toward becoming the sixth NATO Patriot country and the 14th Patriot partner nation," Wes Kremer, president of Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems, said in a release issued Tuesday following the announcement.
Raytheon said it will "continue supporting" the US and Polish governments through the Foreign Military Sales process and is working to finalize industrial participation plans that include eight already-signed contracts and more than 30 letters of intent with Polish industry, according to the statement.
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 in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.