Poland readies for short-range air defense deal as trade show approaches

WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s military acquisition efforts have hosted several unexpected twists and turns this year. The Defence Ministry awarded a deal for 24 Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones in May without a tender, and it later unexpectedly unveiled plans to buy 250 M1A2 Abrams SEPv3 tanks from the United States. The next major procurement in the pipeline concerns Poland’s Narew short-range air defense system, with numerous foreign suppliers competing for the deal.

The planned contract will be one of the main themes of this year’s MSPO defense industry show in Kielce, Poland. Unlike many other European shows, last year’s edition was not canceled, and 185 industry players from 15 countries attended. This year’s edition, which runs Sept. 7-10, is likely to attract a higher attendance than the several thousand visitors from 2020. The 2019 show attracted 610 companies from 31 countries, and about 30,500 visitors.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, visitors who want to attend this year’s show must submit an online form about their vaccination status and wear a mask indoors. Indoor attendance is limited to one person per 10 square meters (108 feet), or a total of 3,840 people at any time. However, this limit does not apply to fully vaccinated individuals.

The Narew program, which is estimated to be worth up to 33 billion zloty (U.S. $8 billion), is designed to provide air defense within a range of about 40 kilometers (25 miles). The missiles will complement Poland’s medium-range Wisla air defense system, which will be based on medium-range Patriot missiles made by American company Raytheon Technologies. Under a contract signed in 2018, Poland’s military is scheduled to obtain two Patriot Configuration 3+ batteries in 2022.

Recent statements by Defence Ministry officials suggest the government aims to award the Narew deal to Poland’s state-run defense giant PGZ. The group is to integrate the system based on missile technology supplied by a foreign partner, and local industry will produce the missiles, launchers and other key components.

Tomasz Smura, who runs the research office of the Warsaw-based think tank Casimir Pulaski Foundation, told Defense News that the amount of domestic industry involvement detailed in each bid will likely affect the ministry’s final selection of a foreign partner.

“Our defense industry has allocated significant assets to develop new solutions — for instance, new-generation passive radars — that could be used in this program. We need a foreign-made interceptor for these systems and the know-how that comes along with it, but the Polish industry is also hoping to gain new capacities from this program,” Smura said.

“There has been much speculation surrounding the Narew program, but the ministry has emphasized the industrial cooperation angle from the very beginning,” he added.

Under the Narew procurement, the Polish military could acquire about 23 batteries, according to official government documents. The program was included in the ministry’s Technical Modernization Program until 2026, which foresees spending a total of 185 billion zloty on new weapons and military gear.

Who’s competing?

The leading contenders for Narew include a team of Raytheon and Norway’s Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace; European defense giant MBDA; Israel Aerospace Industries; and Israeli firm Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.

The joint U.S.-Norwegian bid relies on the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System, or NASAMS. Should Poland hand the procurement to the two companies, this would mark their third missile contract from Warsaw combined. In addition to the Patriot missiles on order, the Polish military already operates the Naval Strike Missile coastal defense systems delivered by Kongsberg.

Meanwhile, MBDA is pursuing the short-range air defense deal with its Common Anti-air Modular Missile, or CAMM. And Rafael is offering its SkyCeptor interceptors, hoping to capitalize on the company’s long-term cooperation with Poland’s defense industry, which produces the Spike LR anti-tank guided missile under a license. The other Israeli player, IAI, is pitching its Barak MX system.

As Poland’s military modernization efforts accelerate, other major programs under development include the Kruk combat helicopter acquisition and the Orka submarine program.

Under the Kruk effort, the ministry aims to purchase 32 combat helos for the country’s Air Force. Potential suppliers include American firms Boeing and Bell and well as Italy’s Leonardo and France’s Airbus Helicopters.

For the Polish Navy, the ministry wants three new submarines under the Orka program. Some of the manufacturers offering their vessels include Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, with its 212CD-class sub; France’s Naval Group, offering its Scorpene-class vessel; and Sweden’s Saab, with the A26-class sub.

Jaroslaw Adamowski is the Poland correspondent for Defense News.

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