Years of Change
April 30, 2014
Piotr Wojciechowski, Chairman of the Board, WB Electronics:
There are two big anniversaries this year. Twenty-five years ago, the people of Poland voted for freedom in the first partially free elections. Ten years later, this freedom became guaranteed when Poland joined NATO. We signed NATO accession documents March 12, 1999, together with the Czech Republic and Hungary—a fact worth noting, because this meant guaranteed security for Poland and stability for Poland’s closest neighbors and other countries in the region. Former members of the Warsaw Pact became part of the Western world and a community of free and democratic states.
Joining NATO not only became a security guarantee, but it also stimulated the development of the Polish army. After the demise of the Warsaw Pact, the equipment that Poland’s armed forces were left with came from a bygone era. Meanwhile, with Poland’s privileges as a NATO member also came duties. Poland was required to have the military potential and capability to take part in NATO missions, including the capability to defend its allies from threats, as envisioned by Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. Command systems in member states had to be interoperable. Article 5 requires all Treaty signatories to come to the aid of any NATO member state subject to an armed attack. Given the obsolete equipment Polish troops had, it was hard to imagine Poland being able to offer any kind of assistance.
Thus began the modernization of the Polish army, complete with major purchases, with the largest being a contract for the delivery of multi-role jet fighters. Polish companies contributed to the modernization process and, for example, WB Electronics found a niche for itself in helping to upgrade artillery command systems.
The need to take Poland’s armed forces into the 21st century became particularly evident during the wars in Afghanistan, where Poland is still taking part in NATO missions, and in Iraq. The conflicts in the two countries became a practical test for the Polish army and the combat capabilities of the equipment it was using. The first mission in Afghanistan showed that Polish armored vehicles needed reinforcement and that most uniforms worn by Polish troops were unfit for a desert climate. Today, of course, we have an army that ranks among the best prepared for operating in that region. But it has all taken investment and milestone deals, such as the purchase of Rosomak (Wolverine) armored vehicles.
The Rosomak is a good example of how Polish engineers have helped enhance equipment purchased abroad and produced on license in Poland. Other examples include the Krab self-propelled howitzer, a model example of how to use a license—most of the electronic equipment is now being supplied by WB Electronics. Dozens of other examples prove that our engineers are capable of coming up with solutions that meet global standards.
The 15 years in NATO have changed Poland’s armed industry enough to turn some enterprises into global leaders and exporters of cutting-edge defense technology. It is worth mentioning the Fonet communications system produced by WB Electronics that is used by 80 percent of the world’s armies, including NATO armies. Poland is also a leading producer of unmanned aircraft.
Poland’s armed forces still have a long way to go before they become fully modern. In the process, it’s worth using the expertise of Polish engineers, as history has shown that this simply pays off.