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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » October 27, 2017
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Patriot games
October 27, 2017   
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Polish purchase of the American Patriot anti-missile system, dubbed the "contract of the century", is worth approximately 30 billion zloty. However, there is still uncertainty as to when it will actually happen and whether the Polish armed forces will actually receive the hardware they were expecting.

"It is possible that contracts for the Patriot air defence system will be signed this year", said Antoni Macierewicz, the Minister of National Defence after returning from the United States. "We are treating the threat associated with missile systems extremely seriously, and Poland has to be able to effectively respond to it. Both these contracts guarantee just such a response", emphasised the chief of MON (Ministry of National Defence).

In early September, the American Raytheon, announced that an offset proposal will be made in relation to Poland's planned purchase of the Patriot air defence systems.

Raytheon assured, that it is ready for the largest possible technology transfer permissible under the US law. The transfer is to see a 50 per cent participation of Polish industry in the execution of the contract. It is to encompass communication systems, chassis, launchers and project management.

The Americans did stipulate that they will not be able to hand over algorithms, source code, the guidance section or the multi-pulse rocket motors which increase the speed of the missile just before impact.

In accordance with a memorandum signed in early July, the US government has given its go ahead for the sale of the Patriot air defence battery to Poland in its most up-to-date configuration, one which is used by the US land forces.

Deliveries are to begin in 2020, initially encompassing four fire units (i.e. two batteries, each comprising six launchers) armed with Lockheed Martin PAC-3 MSE missiles and equipped with the IBCS battle command system.

In subsequent phases, that is after 2020, Poland is poised to receive batteries armed with the cheaper SkyCeptor missiles and a 360-degree radar.

Modernisation of the Polish air defences is one of the priorities of the long-term development plan for the Polish armed forces. The system is to be mobile and enable the defence of selected areas – important sites, army groups and Polish contingents abroad.

Wisła – a medium range system with ballistic missile engagement capacity – is just one part of the planned national air defence system. The previously ruling PO-PSL coalition selected the Patriot system as the subject of talks between the Polish and US governments in April 2015. At the time the government declared that Poland intends to purchase eight medium-range air defence batteries within the scope of the "Wisła" programme. Each battery is to comprise two fire units with three launchers.

The systems are to comprise PAC-2 GEM-T and PAC-3 MSE missiles. MON has not disclosed their exact numbers or combination of the types. According to the ministry, the ability to counteract Iskander missiles, deployed by the Russian Federation army in the Kaliningrad region which neighbours Poland, was one of the primary criteria.

According to the announcements by the current MON management, the cost of the system installed within the scope of Wisła medium range air defence programme shall not exceed 30 billion zloty (approximately 7 billion euros).

"Poland needs the Patriot systems, and this is a rare example of such an effective continuation of the actions by subsequent governments in the area of national security", said Tomasz Siemoniak, the former Defence Minister, today a deputy of the Opposition (Civil Platform) about the actions of the current government.

However, the technical parameters of the US armaments on offer to Poland have been questioned by some Polish experts. These primarily pertain to the radar system and the missiles which are to intercept and destroy enemy rockets.

Wisła system launchers, used by rockets which are to destroy incoming air targets are supposed to be anti-ballistic, or able to deal with the Russian Iskanders, network-centric, or able to operate in any configuration through a digital exchange of data, mobile, or mounted on easy-to-deploy chassis able to move off-road and 360-degrees, or able to destroy rockets incoming from any direction. Importantly, and not only from the point of view of Poland's defence, but also its economy, they are also to be armed with intercept missiles, which can be manufactured and developed further at Polish arms industry facilities.

During the course of protracted negotiations with the Americans, it has been agreed, that the Patriot system shall satisfy these requirements, albeit with some modifications. The anti-ballistic capability required by the Polish army is to be delivered by the PAC-3 MSE missile, which is just entering service in the US army, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, Raytheon's partner and competitor at the same time.

The Poles understand that network-centricity is to be guaranteed by the ICBS command battle system supplied, by Northrop Grumman. The Polish Jelcz and other companies which cooperate with Raytheon are to build the chassis with off-road capabilities.

When it comes to the missiles, Raytheon used the experiences and technology by Rafael, its Israeli partner, who constructed David's Sling, an air defence system with anti-ballistic capabilities. The System operates by accelerating a Stunner missile to great speeds in order to destroy the target by its impact force. The creation of Stunner was partly financed by US means and is a joint Raytheon and Rafael project. The export version is called SkyCeptor and Poland would be the first country to purchase it.

However, the Polish postulate for purchasing a missile together with access to most of its manufacturing technologies might prove troublesome. For SkyCeptor, the rocket engine is the most significant element, able to accelerate the missile to officially undisclosed speeds, but estimated by experts to be five times the speed of sound. It delivers a burst of speed in the terminal phase of the enemy missile intercept.

However, during this year's Defence Industry Exhibition in Kilece – the largest arms industry fair in Poland – Raytheon representatives expressed the position of the US and Israeli governments, that the so-called multi-pulse rocket motor is beyond the acceptable technology transfer. The same applies to the guidance section, rocket source codes and its programming algorithms. Of course, SkyCeptor rockets will have motors, but these will be earlier generation units.

There are also problems when it comes to purchasing the radar. Raytheon does not supply equipment which would satisfy the Polish 360-degree requirements. Ever since the first Patriot radar combat elements were introduced almost 40 years ago, they have only been able to receive signals from one direction, with a capability for monitoring targets within a 120-degree range. For a Patriot fire platoon to have the capacity to monitor targets in all directions, it would require three radars, which would significantly hike up the overall system costs.

The Polish defence doctrine assumes an attack only from the East. However, it is no secret, that an aircraft or a manoeuvring missile may attack from any direction: and thus the 360-degree requirement for the Polish "missile shield". A radar system with a revolving antenna have been issued by the Polish armed forces for decades; these were also manufactured in Polish military technology facilities.

Raytheon suggested a radar with additional equipment. The massive front antenna is to be supplemented by two smaller units on the sides and to the rear of the radar set. And that is how a project for a radar was developed, which does indeed have 360-degree vision, but due to the difference in the heights of the antennas, in some directions it sees further than in others.

If SkyCeptor is abandoned, this would mean that a different rocket supplier, such as Lockheed Martin would enter the fray, or the approach would need to be reassessed –possibly a return to the older generation of Raytheon rockets.

The final decisions as to the execution of the "contract of the century" are to be made next year, during negotiations of the content of the second phase of the contract. In the first, Poland is to receive PAC-3 MSE ant-ballistic missiles. However, apart from an improbable attack by a rouge state, such as Iran or North Korea, it seems even less likely that Poland will be attacked by weapons of that kind.

Experts are pointing out that Warsaw chose a particularly unfortunate time to purchase air defence weaponry; the old systems do not match the refined Polish requirements and new concepts have not been subjected to a trial-by-fire and have not even entered production yet.

Thus, Macierewicz's optimism may prove to be premature.
W. Ż.
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