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US soldiers stand next to a Patriot surface-to-air missile battery at an army base in Morag, Poland.

Poland’s Choice for Patriot

by Debalina Ghoshal

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As a part of its Wisla program, Poland has decided to finalize an agreement to buy a Raytheon-made Patriot air and missile defence system through a contract worth US $5.6 Billion. This deal has been completed under Poland’s Narew program. Expanding and modernizing its missile defence system is a key element to the nation’s military modernization process. During the initial planning stages, Poland had also given serious consideration with respect to the prospect of deploying the Medium Extended Range Air and Missile Defence System (MEADS). In 2014, the medium range air and missile defence program had nine bidders, namely, MBDA, Thales, Israel Aerospace Industries, MEADS, Rafael, Aselsan, Kongsberg, Diehl BGT Defense, and Poland’s PGZ. However, later on, Poland decided to employ only systems with operationally proven defence capabilities, rather than those in the developmental phase, and thus, it rejected MEADS and chose instead the mature and proven Patriot system. Furthermore, over the years, Poland had scrutinized the systems that had bid for Poland’s air and missile defence capabilities to check if those systems could provide a 360 degree coverage.

Reuters RTSRUJS/Agencja Gazeta

Polish Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz

In 2015, Poland’s new Government, the Law and Justice Party (PiS), hastened the process of the tender to acquire nine batteries that would provide Poland with a short range air defence capability. However, the Patriot deal eventually slowed down under the new government, despite Poland offering assurance of its intent to buy the system. The delay in the decision to purchase was due to the Patriot’s high price and protracted delivery date, according to Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz. The Patriot system is already being used in Europe by Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, the United States, the Netherlands and Poland. The Netherlands, the United States, Germany and Spain have also fielded the Patriot system in Turkey, although Patriot deployment to Turkey was subsequently withdrawn by the United States, the Netherlands and Germany. Therefore, it was obvious that Poland would seek a defence capability that was interoperable with its NATO allies. At present, Poland probably will acquire the PAC-3 (MIM-104F) advanced defence version of the Patriot, since it already hosts training rotations of a battery of US Patriots with the PAC-2 (MIM-104C) capability. This prior experience with the older Patriot system means that it should be easier for Poland to assimilate and operate the advanced PAC-3 systems. Moreover, Raytheon has also agreed to co-develop the new system with Poland.

Reuters RTR4UGQW/Agencja Gazeta

Polish and American soldiers look at a Patriot missile defense battery during a joint exercise at the military grounds in Sochaczew, Poland.

The new missile defence system in Poland will form a component of the European Phased Adaptive Approach, which is likely to become operational beginning in 2018. In May 2016, the United States operationalized the first $800 million Aegis Ashore Missile Defence System shield in Romania at the remote Deveselu air base. Poland has also agreed to host land-based components of the Aegis ballistic missile defence program that would use the Aegis BMD 5.1 combat system and SM-3 IB and IIA interceptors.

© REUTERS/Alamy Stock Photo, Image ID GGW1BH

US and Romanian officials at the official ground breaking ceremony for the US Aegis Ashore missile defense facility at Deveselu, 28 October 2013.

Russia’s eastward expansion in Europe has not been viewed by Poland in a positive light. Poland is apprehensive of Russia’s expansion, especially with respect to reports of Russia planning to field tactical nuclear missiles in Kalingrad, an exclave of Russia that borders Poland and the Baltic States - Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. Warsaw has characterized these moves as “disturbing” and “alarming.” Poland’s apprehension has a historic background. In September 1939, despite having signed a non-aggression pact with Poland in 1932, the Soviet Union invaded the country and persecuted countless numbers of its citizens. After the Second World War, Poland also lost some territory to the Soviet Union as it became a part of the Warsaw Pact, and it was only after the Cold War that Poland gained its independence. Since the Russia-Georgian conflict and the Ukrainian crisis, Poland’s apprehensions have only intensified. Poland believes that Russia is attempting to regain “the power it lost after the break-up of the Soviet Union,” aspirations that could deeply affect Moldova, Georgia, Poland, and the Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia).

© SPUTNIK/Alamy Stock Photo, Image ID B9ABFH

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russia has raised concerns with respect to the missile defence deployment by the United States and NATO in Europe, because they believe that the defence system negates their nuclear deterrent capability and creates strategic destabilization. In fact, in 2016, a Russian Presidential spokesperson stated: “Deployment of the ABM system poses a certain threat to the Russian Federation.” However, NATO repeatedly has repeatedly assured Russia that the missile defence system is not aimed at Russia, but is being fielded in Europe to counter ballistic missile threats from Iran.

© Alexey Zarubin/Alamy Stock Photo, Image ID BKTWNG

Iskander (NATO code name SS-26 Stone), a short range mobile missile system, is displayed during the Red Square Moscow Victory Parade of 2010.

Moscow also views its decision to station nuclear capable missiles in Kalingrad as its “right” to do so as a “logical response” to a missile defence threat from the United States. Nonetheless, in 1991, Russia had pledged to ensure that the Baltic States are and remain nuclear weapons free. Poland and the Baltic States are apprehensive of Russia breaking this pledge. Defence Minister Macierewicz fears that the deployment of Iskander missiles by Russia in Kalingrad can put Poland and Germany at threat, and therefore views a defence system as a credible deterrent against these threats.

Debalina Ghoshal is a Research Fellow, Centre for Human Security Studies, Hyderabad, specializing in strategic studies, nuclear security, and missile and missile defence issues. Her articles have appeared in the Federation of American Scientists, RUSI News Brief, The Diplomat, Yale Global, Defence Review Asia, and the European Security and Defence Union, to name a few of her credits.