Poland Juggles Modernization With Security Obligations

September 2004
By Robert K. Ackerman
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Polish armed forces engage in military exercises in Poland. The NATO nation is grappling with the challenge of upgrading its military while fulfilling international commitments overseas. 
The new NATO stalwart transforms on the run.

The home nation of the former Warsaw Pact is undergoing a multifaceted military revolution as it strives to provide significant contributions to Free World security. Shortly after leading the former Eastern bloc in joining NATO, Poland is facing multiple challenges to both modernize and transform its armed forces.

The new NATO member must deal with the disparity in its military potential and capabilities compared to those of other alliance members. It is undertaking dramatic steps to change the nature of its armed forces to produce quantitative and qualitative improvements. And, it has to achieve these objectives while actively contributing to security activities on behalf of NATO and its individual members.

Poland entered NATO just as the Atlantic alliance was undergoing substantial changes of its own. The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Warsaw Pact that predicated Poland’s entry into NATO forced the half-century-old security coalition to undergo a major metamorphosis from its roots as a bulwark against a monolithic threat. Concurrent with this policy change was the technology transformation that began to grip the modern armed forces of its members. Then, on September 11, 2001, NATO’s focus shifted from regional security to the global war on terror, as the alliance invoked Article 5 of its charter in defense of a member state for the first time.

The complex circumstances that greeted Poland upon entering the alliance have contributed to the multifaceted character of the challenges it faced at the beginning of its membership in NATO, explains Gen. Czeslaw Piatas, PA, chief of the general staff of the Polish Armed Forces (PAF). In addition to dealing with the new direction that NATO embarked on, Poland had to address significant issues of its own.

First, the PAF had to be modernized at the expense of its excessive size. The total number of military personnel in service at the time of entering the alliance—about 205,000 soldiers—had to be reduced significantly.

Second, Poland had to gradually replace its Soviet-era armament and equipment to satisfy the new types of missions undertaken by the alliance—crisis response and out-of-area operations—and to ensure the interoperability of its forces with its new alliance partners. However, these requirements had to be prioritized given the country’s limited financial resources.

The Program for Reconstruction and Technical Modernization of the Polish Armed Forces 2001-2006 defines the main directions of reform and transformation within the PAF. The plan envisions the target strength of the PAF to be 150,000 soldiers, with one third of them to be trained and equipped to NATO standards. For replacing or upgrading its military equipment, Poland is focusing on modernizing its main battle tanks, acquiring new armored personnel carriers and adding multirole aircraft.

Several key issues that affect the Polish military lie at the heart of the country’s vision for the future development of the PAF. The country’s first strategic defense review (SDR) is planned for this fall. Its goal is to provide direction for the development of the armed forces over the next 10 to 15 years accounting for the challenges and threats in the post-9/11 environment. Ultimately, the SDR also should strike a balance between national defense requirements and Poland’s international obligations.

The current Polish defense budget is kept at 1.95 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. However, the SDR must determine what level of financing will be available in the future to provide for PAF modernization and restructuring. This will set the boundaries for discharging undertaken obligations, Gen. Piatas explains. It also will provide a solid base for the acquisition of new weapon systems and equipment.

On July 1, 2004, Poland introduced a new personnel policy to regulate all aspects of the military service. The policy establishes a set of rules for military personnel career advancement. The general describes it as a major step in the development of the more professional and robust forces. In 2001, the percentage of professional soldiers in the PAF was estimated to be 45 percent, and this number now has grown to 55 percent. Current plans aim for more than 60 percent of the PAF to consist of professional soldiers by the end of 2008. The professional enlisted ranks created under the terms of the new policy will provide personnel for deployable units.

The dynamic changes that have occurred recently in the international security environment have led Poland to conclude that the threat of large-scale conflict virtually has disappeared, the general notes. However, asymmetric threats have emerged, and the country cannot afford to ignore them. Individual states as well as the entire global system face new challenges and risks, and these could mark the starting point of future conflicts. These new threats induced a reassessment and adjustment of both NATO’s and Poland’s strategy.

Poland now sees the need to accelerate PAF transformation to develop the necessary capabilities to carry out new tasks and missions, the general offers. This awareness emerged from new NATO initiatives such as the Prague Capabilities Commitment, the NATO Response Force, the rebuilding of NATO force and command structures, and Poland’s own lessons learned from the Iraq War.

The reform of NATO’s command system and changes in armed forces’ missions have impelled Poland to make changes in the PAF’s command and control system. First, operational and non-operational command were separated. The Joint Operations Command will be the main element of operational command. It will be responsible for command and control of the PAF conducting operations both inside and outside Poland’s territory.

Concurrently, Poland created the Joint Force Training Center in Bydgoszcz. The center will be subordinate to the Allied Command Transformation. The general observes that one of the main advantages of the center being in Bydgoszcz is the availability of excellent military training areas nearby for both land and air forces, which is required by NATO.

Poland was active in the NATO planning process before it entered the alliance. The country participated in the Planning and Review Process focusing primarily on defense planning cycle, air defense, communications, and command and control (C2).

Gen. Piatas (r) meets with Gen. Richard B. Myers, USAF (c), chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Warsaw. Poland is striving to improve interoperability with allied forces concurrent with its activities supporting NATO and coalition operations. 
“NATO constitutes the most important guarantee of external security and stable development of our country,” Gen. Piatas declares. “For Poland, NATO is the key platform for multilateral and bilateral collaboration within the scope of security and defense preparedness and the main pillar of political-military stability on the continent.”

The general offers that Poland supports NATO’s evolution toward engaging in new missions and capabilities while preserving NATO’s credible assets and capability for classical collective defense functions. These functions guarantee stability in the Euro-Atlantic region and safeguard Poland against the likelihood of direct threats.

He adds that Poland will continue to act in support of NATO’s cohesion, including the congruence of allied interests on the international scene, elimination of the technology gaps between the allies’ military assets and capabilities, and increased access of European states to NATO’s operational and defense capabilities.

But Poland also can serve the alliance in ways that are specific to its nature. Gen. Piatas notes that Poland will take practical measures to support NATO’s deepening partnership with Russia based on the provisions of the Founding Act and the Declaration of Rome. Poland also supports the fulfillment of Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations, and it favors strengthening the role of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and Partnership for Peace in safeguarding the security of Southeastern Europe, Transcaucasia and Central Asia.

Poland declared its support for the NATO Response Force initiative from the beginning and has been participating actively in the implementation of this concept, Gen. Piatas warrants. However, the country’s commitment to NATO, U.N. and Iraqi operations and the need to have some reserves for troop rotation do not allow it to contribute meaningful forces until the middle of 2006. The country is aiming at assigning larger units.

Poland is building on lessons learned from military commitments to Afghan and Iraqi operations as well as from other NATO peace-support and peacekeeping operations. The country plans to create an additional logistics brigade and a second mobile field hospital, and it will prepare military police units for deployed operations, the general relates. To increase the number of deployable High Readiness Force units, the PAF is revising its brigade structure. The result will be a force structure with fewer brigades, but they will be properly manned and equipped to accepted levels and at a high level of professionalism, he offers. Some mechanized brigades will restructure to become motorized units.

The principal aim of the 2003-2008 Polish Armed Forces Development Program is to stabilize force strength at 150,000 people while developing combat potential and attaining the military capabilities that are a priority, Gen. Piatas says. By the end of 2008, about one-third of the PAF will meet NATO standards fully and will be capable of conducting deployed operations, day or night, in all weather conditions and with the required level of combat and combat services support.

Key to achieving these improvements are 11 equipment acquisition programs. These include the PATRIA wheeled armored fighting vehicle, SPIKE antitank guided missile systems, the F-16 multirole combat aircraft, CASA C-295 transport aircraft and possibly some second-hand C-130 transport aircraft. All the major tender proceedings are complete, the general notes.

During this period, the national air defense system should be fully integrated with the NATO Integrated Air Defense System and with the unified European air control system. After 2004, the Polish navy will be tailored to the number of warships currently on inventory. Some ships will improve their combat effectiveness through the introduction of modern surface-to-surface missile systems. Naval aviation will be restructured, and its tasks will be limited to only maritime reconnaissance and search-and-rescue duties.

The technical modernization of Polish forces is another principal factor that will enable the services to achieve the required combat capabilities, the general points out. It also will include upgrades to existing equipment.

“We believe our program identifies and targets the priorities that will address both national and alliance requirements,” Gen. Piatas states. “It is realistic because it acknowledges the reality of financial, economic, social and political constraints. It is wide-ranging, covering everything from C2 to combat potential, from single services to joint commands and from capabilities initiatives to doctrinal issues such as transformation. And, it embraces a truly multinational approach.”

The general observes that a potent command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) capability has a profound influence on the way armed forces deter, and if necessary, fight wars. Joint C4I is the center of gravity for force operations, and operation Iraqi Freedom showed that shared situational awareness dramatically increased mission effectiveness. With this illustration in mind, the PAF has defined effective network-centric operation as a goal. However, it may not be achievable within a short time frame, he cautions.

Poland recognizes that information is a weapon. So, the concept of network-centric warfare is taken into account by officers and engineers developing new systems and enhancing existing ones, the general says.

For the past few years, the PAF has strengthened and improved communication information system capabilities by implementing modern digital solutions, Gen. Piatas continues. The tactical and operational capabilities that are needed by commanders remain the primary driver of interoperability solutions and investments.

Four strategic directions guide the country’s information technology policy. The first is the implementation of a modern tactical system for all units. This implementation already is underway and is fairly advanced. The second direction is to create some satellite capabilities. Implementing Link 11, Link 16 and Link 22 is the third direction. The fourth element is to connect the Polish services’ automated command systems to generate a common operational picture. This last point will bring the PAF into a network-centric environment, the general points out.


Web Resources
Poland Ministry of Defense (English):
Polish Defense Policy: www.wp.mil.pl/start.php?page=1010300001
NATO Basic Documents: www.nato.int/docu/basics.htm