Interview with the Minister of National Defense, Mariusz Błaszczak
Looking back at this year, what have been the most important undertakings related to the Polish Armed Forces long-term modernization program?
The Polish Armed Forces are now undergoing a quality change. The Polish army is gradually withdrawing post-Soviet equipment from service – it isn’t a quick process, but the equipment our soldiers will soon receive is definitely some of the most advanced armament in the world. The F-35 multirole combat aircraft, Patriot and HIMARS systems, combat tested Abrams tanks in their latest version, Miecznik multirole frigates built in Poland, tugboats, Javelin anti-tank missiles, division fire modules equipped with Krab self-propelled howitzers, Rak company fire modules, Black Hawk and the AW101 helicopters, new types of modern ammunition and radar systems, or Bayraktar UAVs equipped with anti-tank missiles – these are only a few examples of the hundreds of elements that make up the grand modernization plan currently implemented in the Polish Armed Forces. The plan also covers sustainable development of our combat potential that will enable us to act in every domain of the modern armed conflict, regardless if it takes place on water, on land, in the air, or in cyber space. Let me remind you that the Technical Modernization Plan for 2021–2035 is a cost of a staggering 524 billion zlotys, which will be spent, i.a, on new armament and equipment for those who protect our security. No other government in the history of Poland was able to provide so much money to modernize the armed forces. This year has already brought many important defense contracts. I am satisfied to say that all implemented and planned activities work towards increasing Poland’s defense potential and, in turn, our level of security, which has always been and will remain my priority.
The Miecznik program is the largest order for the domestic defense industry since 1989. How important is it?
Miecznik is a big step made to further increase the capabilities of the Polish Navy. It will ensure new operational capabilities necessary to execute a wide spectrum of tasks on the sea. It will not only help to better protect shipping routes and energy infrastructure, but also increase military security and deterrence potential, and strengthen Poland’s position in the international arena. I want to emphasize that three frigates will be built in Polish shipyards and it is the largest contract in history executed by the domestic defense industry. The value of the whole order, including fire units and a logistics package, will come up to about 8 billion zlotys. The program provides for the maximum possible participation of the Polish defense and scientific research industry. The execution of the project in Poland will also help to create 2,000 new workplaces at shipyards, defense companies and other industry sectors directly engaged in the project. In a few months, the armed forces will choose a project from among three options prepared by the industry, which will in turn initiate the process of building a prototype ship. The launch of the first vessel is planned for 2025, and it should be transferred to the Navy before 2028.
Why did Poland decide to choose a Turkish system of unmanned aerial vehicles?
The decision was taken as a result of a careful analysis of different options and the possibilities of their realization. I want to emphasize that the Ministry of National Defense wants to buy equipment and armament from Polish defense companies whenever it’s possible, but in this particular case there was no such possibility. Our companies don’t produce UAVs of this class, although I really hope the situation will change in the near future. When choosing a contractor, we take into consideration not only technical parameters but also the contractor’s capability to ensure deliveries in the required time, of expected quality and at a rational price. This particular contract covers a 24-month guarantee, a training and logistics package, ground-based equipment, an ammunition stock, and transfer of technology ensuring the possibility to service and repair particular elements of the system. It is worth mentioning that the Turkish UAVs have been thoroughly combat-tested during conflicts in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, in Libya, Syria, or in the fights over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The announcement on the procurement of Abrams tanks raised concern in the Polish arms companies. Will Poland try to obtain transfer of technology necessary to service them here?
The increase in the capabilities and the potential of the land forces gained as a result of procuring the M1A2 Abrams is comparable to this gained by the air force after the procurement of the F-35s. These are the most technologically advanced tanks in the world, which have additionally been combat tested. On the strength of this contract, our army will receive 250 machines in their most advanced version and the latest configuration, together with a logistics and training package. The first tanks will be delivered to Poland already next year. We are also planning to develop the necessary infrastructure. Abrams tanks will significantly and relatively quickly increase the security of Poland and NATO’s eastern flank. I also want to emphasize that we are not giving up on the plans to acquire new generation tanks under the Wilk program. We are considering procurement of machines built by the Polish industry or within the frame of international cooperation. The potential technology transfer, its extent and other details related to Abrams tanks will be discussed after our American partners express their consent to sell them.
The land forces are also waiting for the new infantry fighting vehicle. When can they expect Borsuk deliveries to begin?
We are doing everything we can to fulfill these expectations. That’s why the Borsuk program is executed. Keep in mind, however, that the prototype was built and presented only three years ago, and the work on individual elements is still ongoing. For example, the capabilities of an unmanned turret were tested in the fall of last year. We really want the BWP-1, which remembers the times of the Warsaw Pact, to be replaced by a machine which is advanced, thoroughly tested and safe for the crew, which will respond to the requirements of the 21st century battlefield and meet the expectations of the Polish Armed Forces. Therefore, although the work is advancing according to schedule, we must keep in mind the priority of quality as the ultimate determinant of the time when the project will be finished.
Recently, the first AW101 intended for the Naval Aviation has been test-flown. Are there any plans to order more helicopters?
We have high hopes for this type of helicopter. Let me remind you that the contract signed with PZL Świdnik in 2019 assumes building four machines. The first one was flown at the end of July, but we will be able to decide on the procurement of more machines only after all the tests have been successfully completed. I can certainly say the AW101 will be another solid element increasing the Navy’s capabilities in the Baltic Sea, and, as a result, Poland’s defense potential.
The Polish Armed Forces have many types of helicopters executing various tasks. Due to the technological advancement and the changes that have been happening in the recent years in the international security environment, we are planning to procure successors of the currently used machines, which has been included in the Technical Modernization Plan for 2021–2035. In the upcoming years, the Polish Armed Forces are going to look for advanced attack helicopters, new combat support helicopters or multirole shipborne helicopters. The procurement of the last type will be connected with the building of the new Miecznik class frigates.
What technologies of the future will the Ministry of National Defense invest in?
I’ve created the Innovation Department at the MoND. It actively engages in finding, identifying and implementing modern solutions with a serious potential in the Polish Armed Forces, such as artificial intelligence, space technologies or biotechnology. These aspects will have crucial influence on the battlefield in the next few decades. We are aware that these technologies offer great possibilities but are very challenging at the same time. That’s why I have indicated their development as an investment priority in the area of MoND’s research, which has been reflected in the ministerial document determining research and development tendencies – Priority Directions for Research at the Ministry of National Defense for 2017–2026.
What is the current stage of the preparations to establish the Armament Agency?
They are in the phase of intensive consultations aimed at reaching the final wording of relevant acts of law. Modernization of equipment or its procurement for the Polish Armed Forces are long-lasting and complicated processes. For the time being, there are too many entities engaged in such processes, and, as a consequence, they take too long. One of my goals is to improve the procedures of procuring military equipment. The Armament Agency will be the body responsible for verifying the army’s needs and turning its requirements into reality. It will be a state-financed unit created on the basis of the Armament Inspectorate, but it will also include the Offset Agreements Bureau, a part of the Military Centre for Standardization, Quality and Codification responsible for supervising the quality of procured military equipment, as well as the Inspectorate for Implementation of Innovative Defense Technologies. At the same time, the Agency will be the legal successor of the reformed units and smoothly take over the responsibilities of, i.a., the Armament Inspectorate, particularly regarding the continuation of signed contracts and initiated public procurement procedures.
autor zdjęć: Jakub Szymczuk / KPRP