Polish armed forces chief on walking the line with Russia

Joe Gould

WASHINGTON ― Poland has inked deals for several big-ticket items from the U.S., and signed a pact with the U.S. to host 4,500 rotational American military personnel. Also endearing itself to Washington, Poland is one of seven NATO allies to spend 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense.

On the sidelines of the Halifax International Security Forum last month, the chief of the Polish armed forces, Gen. Rajmund Andrzejczak, discussed the military’s recently completed modernization plans and defense ties with the U.S.

Poland also intends to host the Defender 2020 exercise in spring 2020, one of the largest deployments of U.S. forces to Europe since the Cold War. Approximately 37,000 of combined U.S. and allied troops are expected to participate.

The head of the Polish Ministry of Defence recently signed a new technical modernization plan. What are some of its goals? What kinds of equipment does Poland hope to develop under that plan and what opportunities does it present to industry?

The first priority of course will be air defense systems — Patriot batteries for preventing the airstrikes as well as the missiles. We have some challenges with IBCS [a Northrop Grumman-made command and control system, dubbed the Integrated Battle Command System], as well as the radars [Polish radars developed by PIT-RADWAR SA — part of the government-owned Polish Armaments Group], so there’s more technical discussion needed. But the decision was absolutely made, and there’s no question it’s a very high priority to secure critical infrastructure and military formations in high intensity conflict.

The second biggest project is the F-35. So we have 32 airplanes — that’s our assessments of what we need, and additional F-16 squadrons for the transition. We really want to cancel all the former Russian airplanes, [including] the MiG-29 and Sukhoi-22. The HiMARS, the long-range artillery systems, up to the 300 kilometers, is very high in the priorities.

So that’s the capability approach, but another very important priority is heavily investing in our national industry. And for a couple of years, we lived in a completely different dimension, being engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq, and also decreasing numbers of our troops. Russia disappeared from the radar. So we lost not only certain numbers of equipment but also industrial capability. It takes time, and it could be painful, so I’m saying it clearly: If you really want to rebuild, it will take years, money, experts ― and, of course, everything is operating in a non-permissive environment.

But we have to balance between critical capabilities produced in Poland ― like small arms, rifles or pistols and individual equipment ― and the slim chance for sales overseas. With the F-35, it’s balancing between investing in the national industry and pumping energy into the Polish economy. So our modernization program is not only about certain capability we’re going to the shop and buying, but also rebuilding and investing.

What I really like is we changed our approach, and there’s strong support from the Ministry of Defence’s R&D department. And we have some areas that are absolutely incredible: Small-class UAVs, and Poland has these radars that are high quality.

On the idea of phasing out Russian equipment, is Poland still using an array of capabilities bought from Russia in the past?

Tanks, T-72s...

Do some of those defense relationships still exist because of a need for spare parts, maybe?

We’re trying to avoid buying [Russian equipment]. Like helicopters, the Mi-24, we’re looking for a completely different markets like Ukraine. To be independent in these areas is absolutely critical. But talking about scale, we still have 500 T-72s, half of them modernized up to PT-91 version, which is the Polish upgrade version of a T-72. So we say we need good-enough equipment, and we would like to rebuild our reserve divisions, and this type of equipment will be absolutely perfect for those divisions.

So there is a balance between cancelling Soviet equipment and still keeping certain areas. Those are two big systems you cannot change in one day.

There was, in September, a U.S.-Polish joint declaration on advancing defense cooperation. That was chiefly about basing and force posture, but was there any component concerning defense industrial cooperation?

That was about the U.S. presence in Poland. Discussions and social media are focused on the numbers of [U.S.] troops and tanks, and we’re increasing numbers of troops, but from a military perspective, the infrastructure is much more important. Maybe it doesn’t sound sexy, but military mobility, combat training centers and storage for ammunition and equipment are much more important than numbers. We need infrastructure for a brigade combat team, for divisional headquarters, for intelligence assets, UAS systems, for special forces and especially for training. The training command center will also be a place for integration in a crisis, if required. We don’t want to have U.S. soldiers going back to Germany for training, right? It doesn’t make any sense. We will then have, you know, joint combined training with Poland and American troops, and of course any other allies.

There are airfields all over eastern Europe that the United States wants to build, seemingly to send a signal to Russia that if U.S. aviation was ever used in a conflict it wouldn’t have to go all the way back to Germany to be refueled because it could stop in Romania. What kind of signal do you think it sends east that the U.S. is making these investments?

The level of determination is absolutely high, our approach to the security is serious. So, we don’t want to ignite anything, I don’t want to go too far. But from a Polish perspective, engaging Russians, they respect only hard assets and numbers and power. So we have to build this infrastructure just as an option. And when we see the exercises, Zapad, and Russia’s activity in the cyber domain, I would say, wake up. It’s real, it’s not for training. We don’t want to to be surprised.

What is the status of the Patriot sales and the Wisla medium range air and missile defense program?

In Poland, we are trying to change our acquisitions systems. We didn’t realize it would cost so much money, so we are looking for an economical approach, and the minister of defense recently announced a new agency with the PGZ, which is our armament group. They’re trying to build a new organization to be more effective, because it’s not an issue of money ― we have enough money ― it’s about using it properly.

The general staff is responsible for planning and programming so we have to see ahead for 15 years and define the capability that we need, and then a minister of defense is responsible for building the acquisition systems.

What is the scenario that you’re looking to the MoD to address and build to?

We still have scenarios on the map right now for conventional use, for the hybrid crisis, for a purely Polish approach and the NATO scenario. But what I decided is probably the future is much more complex, and we started a much wider discussion, and I set up a micro, special think tank. So I’m sending my requirements and there’s a connection of different civilian experts. So we’re discussing, first, demographic issues because we see a decline in the number of Polish citizens as a big risk ― millions less by 2050. So it means a completely different approach to recruitment, but also robotics ― not because it sounds sexy, or it looks nice, but because there’ll be [fewer workers].

So that’s my approach, parallel to classical planning and programming the acquisition programs, and the assessed environment. The second area for my think tank is urbanization and understanding cities. If military equipment is going to operate in a mega city, it requires an understanding of food, energy services, water, sanitation, 5G [communications networking] and so on ― and of course, climate change and new technologies. We’re using [NATO’s] Allied Command Transformation as well, and we’re discussing bilaterally with our friends, especially the Baltic states.

You’re doing a lot of deep thinking about long-term problems, but how big of an impact in the near term do you see with Russia and its actions in Crimea? What are your immediate concerns?

Readiness, readiness and readiness again. We have what we have, and I have to organize properly for two scenarios. I have to add 22,000 troops in two years.

What’s most important is the ability to protect small, effective elements as quick as possible. So, last year, we had a number of experimental exercises and that’s what I’m thinking about. So, we don’t expect the Russian tanks tomorrow.

We reported recently there were two letters of request from Poland to the U.S. to purchase Javelin man-portable anti-tank systems, and also C-130 transport aircraft. How does that fit into the current concept of operations?

The Javelins, because there’s still a lack of enough anti-tank equipment, when you consider credible numbers of Russian tanks. We still have Spikes [an Israeli fire-and-forget anti-tank and anti-personnel missile], which are very effective, but they are much more sophisticated, and it requires simulators, training. For a big army, internal defense or short training, you need fire-and-forget, so the Javelins will be balancing and filling the gap into [short] range systems, for special forces and internal defense. The C-130, the big challenge is with transportation. Everybody’s suffering and we would really appreciate if there were some Hercules’ available. Poland is not only at home base. We have in Lebanon, a contingent [for a United Nations peace mission]. We have a NATO initiative, European Union and bilateral operations.

If you have missions, like my operation commander does, in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan, transportation is critical. We made a decision in the past and now we're suffering. The [EADS CASA C-295], which is really a small class, is still good enough, but Hercules is really a big horse.

Big picture question: As the U.S. invests in infrastructure in Poland, how much does Poland look to what’s happening in South Korea right now, where the U.S. is renegotiating the cost for its continued presence? Does Poland say, “This could be us?”

With these infrastructure investments in Poland, even if the world changes and the U.S. goes somewhere else, we will still have the infrastructure, the combat training centers, the storage, the highways, runways ― double-use. We have values, we have a responsible approach to securing the area. [The joke is] gentlemen never talk about money, but sometimes it’s good to send a signal to say ‘gentlemen, we have the money, we decided to pay 2 percent.’ Some of us are paying, some of us not. But I’m really optimistic about what I see right now.