A Decisive Decade
August 29, 2013
Deputy Defense Minister Gen. Waldemar Skrzypczak talks to Andrzej Jonas and Witold Żygulski.
Is the ongoing effort to modernize Poland’s armed forces a politically charged issue?
Of course. Politics determines the national defense strategy, which in turn determines what will be needed for the proper functioning of the armed forces and to ensure an appropriate level of security.
The modernization of the armed forces is closely related to two key areas of the functioning of a modern state—the economy and the research and development sector...
I treat these areas as a single whole. I strongly emphasize the need to develop both Polish science and the Polish arms industry. These are the two most important factors determining the self-sufficiency of the country in the field of defense and security.
The government plans to spend a mind-boggling zl.140 billion on reforming and modernizing the armed forces over the next 10 years. Will this spending boost the Polish economy and be a driver of scientific and technological progress?
That’s what should happen. We have to make up for lost time, after decades of delay with regard to the West in military technology. Therefore, we are joining all international programs of interest to us as part of both NATO and the European Union. We want to quickly catch up with Western Europe. I think the coming years will be decisive for the success of this race.
When I took over as deputy defense minister, I reviewed all the projects related to the defense industry and submitted to us by the National Center for Research and Development (NCBiR). Few of these projects ended with practical applications in industry; most ended at the theoretical stage. Now the situation is that the Defense Ministry selects the programs and then reserves the right to check how they are progressing. In this way, together with the NCBiR, we hope to be able to effectively carry out a group of projects of high importance to the defense sector and to national defense. I expect to see the first results of this new model of cooperation in 2014. Today we are working the most intensively on two big projects of strategic importance: one involving national air defense including a ground missile defense system, and the other involving the Navy and including mobile missile systems with a range of about 250 km—which means one that will protect our naval bases against attack. Both these projects are designed to be part of a deterrence strategy unveiled recently by Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Both will provide great opportunities for the development of both science and the economy.
One example is the development of radar technology, an area that has always met very high international standards in Poland. Consequently, we are spending substantial amounts of money on the development of radar technology, both in collaboration with the NCBiR and in direct contacts with Polish companies in the sector. These systems will, of course, be integrated into the country’s air defense system. This applies to both short-range tactical systems and long-range radar.
We also have big potential in command, communication and battlefield management systems. In my opinion, we can rival the best in the world in this area today. It’s worth noting that this is also about our own codes and cryptography. Without these, we won’t have the necessary autonomy and independence in action if the need arises. Cryptography was once a Polish specialty as well, but has been somewhat forgotten in recent decades. Now we are actively investing in it, knowing that it’s impossible to develop an efficient command system without this. Without our own source codes, such a system can be easily paralyzed from the outside.
Will Polish arms manufacturers find it easier to sell their products on global markets once the country’s armed forces are modernized?
I hope so, but first there must be a change in the way international companies active in this sector think about Poland. We do not want to be a customer but a partner, a partner with high potential, extensive R&D facilities and big opportunities for cooperation, including the ability to meet the expectations of the most demanding buyers. To prove that Polish arms plants are better than their competitors, they must be provided with an opportunity that no one has created for them so far. This situation must change and I will be strongly pressing for that to happen.
Of course, what also needs to change is the thinking of many Polish companies, which up to now were certain that our army will buy whatever they produce. Today we want to have the best and most modern equipment and we’re going to buy only such equipment. Our soldiers must be provided with the best equipment in the world. Of course, as a medium-sized country, we won’t be able to provide the kind of equipment that armies in the world’s most powerful countries have, but our soldiers need to be sure that they can rely on their weapons in terms of their battlefield effectiveness and security. Also, Polish munitions factories should find it easier to enter international markets after attracting foreign investors. We hope that global manufacturers will want to take part in our modernization program as partners. Equipment, weapons and munitions that result from this team-up will stand a chance of being exported thanks to the investors’ contacts—to the benefit of both parties.
Are you sure Polish research centers will be able to handle various demanding projects involving military technology?
In my opinion, well-organized collaboration is a key factor. It seems that technology parks created by universities, research institutes and defense companies are a useful form of such collaboration. We already have good examples of that, such as the Aviation Valley [Poland’s largest industrial cluster that brings together more than 100 aerospace companies in the southeast of the country]. At the moment, collaboration on an unmanned aircraft program is being organized between the Rzeszów University of Technology and the Wrocław University of Technology. As the ordering party, we will present our terms to both universities, and they will decide whether they are able to carry out the program on their own, or whether they will have to look for a domestic or foreign partner. Unmanned aircraft is a technology that will dominate in the future in terms of both reconnaissance and combat missions as well as enemy system interference. Poland is increasingly successful in this area, with achievements comparable to those of the United States and Israel, which lead the way globally.
What Polish defense industry products meet top international standards?
Our artillery equipment, for example. We are at the forefront in Europe in this area. Our RAK mortar, destined for use on the Rosomak (Wolverine) armored vehicle, is, in my opinion, the best piece of hardware of this kind in the world today. It is fully automatic and has the unique ability—for this type of weapon—to shoot straight, like a gun. Customers have been lining up for the RAK ever since it was unveiled at a defense industry fair.
The AHS Krab, a modern heavy self-propelled 155 mm howitzer, is an equally promising product. There are still two more years or so to complete work on building it, after which time, I’m sure, the Krab will become another Polish export hit in the artillery segment. At the same time, we are working on a light howitzer adapted to high-precision ammunition and ensuring effective destruction of targets.
We have a lot of experience in armored technology. One example is the already mentioned Rosomak combat vehicle, which has passed the test excellently in Afghanistan, ensuring the safety of soldiers transported. While other armored vehicles get damaged by explosives, the armor of the Rosomak withstands such explosions. The vehicle will now be modernized based on experience from the Afghan war. We have also launched programs for the development of Polish light personnel carriers and light tanks to replace the post-Soviet equipment used until recently by the Polish army.
What else should be developed to benefit both the armed forces and the economy?
Military engines of different capacity. Six foreign partners have expressed interest in a project that involves the production of such engines in Poland. Ultimately, we want domestic plants to handle the maintenance service and repairs of these engines as well. In the future, these engines could be used in new Polish all-terrain vehicles and other military vehicles on which we have also begun to work. Our vehicle program will cover vehicles weighing between one-and-a-half and 16 tons, which in practice means almost all categories. I believe that over time these vehicles, fitted with our engines, will become a highly valued Polish export product. The new off-road vehicle for the military is already at the prototype stage. Ultimately, this will be a multi-purpose vehicle capable of moving behind tanks on the battlefield.
What will the Polish armed forces and the Polish economy look like in 10 years, after the current modernization program is completed?
The level of modernity in the army will reach about 70 percent in terms of the percentage of equipment based on the most modern technology. When it comes to the economy, I believe it will be very much developed technologically and producing for the needs of the Polish armed forces, while also heavily contributing to defense industry exports. Of course, the very fact of going ahead with this program will lead to an increase in the number of jobs in businesses related to the sector. I think this will be more than 10,000 new jobs over this decade, which means that, practically speaking, the number of jobs in the arms industry will double.