How to fix the Polish Armed Forces / Siły Zbrojne Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej

This is one more part of my de facto series of super arrogant smart-arse posts on how to improve armed forces relevant for NATO's defence in Europe.

Military spending in Europe according to IISS "The Military Balance 2016":
Circles represent volume, colours represent increase 2014-2015

Status quo critique

The Polish navy is essentially useless and a waste of public funds. That would even be true if there was a need for a navy, for all of their ships are obsolete.

The Polish air force is essentially useless and a waste of money. The only not entirely unrealistic defence scenarios require a strategic surprise against NATO. To attack NATO without strategic surprise makes no sense as a scenario whatsoever. Yet such a surprise attack would no doubt find 90+ % of the Polish air force in its bases, and the effect would likely approximate what the Israelis did to the Egyptian air force in 1967. All of the major airbases are in range of 500 km range short range ballistic and cruise missiles launched from Kaliningrad Oblast (in addition to more limited quantities of naval cruise missiles that could be launched from Russian Baltic Sea warships).
On top of this, the entire Polish air force is obsolete: They have no area air defences better than 1970's technology. The 48 F-16C/D (Block 52+;  90's tech) are the only at least 2nd rate combat aircraft with AIM-120C and AIM-9X missiles. Their bases are in Central-Western Poland, 300-320 km away from Kaliningrad Oblast. There are doubts about their survivability. They would be worth little without AWACS support and are unable to penetrate Russian S-300 or S-400 missile umbrellas. Those three squadrons would not leave much of a mark in the event of war.

Polish land forces basing (c) TUBS - this would make sense only if
they wanted to surprise attack both Russia and Germany at the same time.
The Polish land forces are essentially disqualifying themselves with at least two critical mistakes:
(1) Roughly a third of Polish land power is so extremely close to Kaliningrad Oblast that it's effectively useless for defence, and thus deterrence. The barracks could be hit by multiple rocket launchers from within Russian territory and this wouldn't even be necessary, for they could be overrun in a coup de main similar to what happened to the Ukrainian military on the Crimea.
Roughly a third of the Polish land power is so very close to the German border that they would need long road marches (impractical for tracked vehicles under own power) to intervene in the area of Kaliningrad Oblast or Lithuania or even only East of Warsaw. This road march would include a crossing of the Vistula river, and this leads to the second mistake
(2) the Polish land forces' only military bridging capacity is grossly insufficient. They may be able to create one, maybe two pontoon bridges across Poland's main river, the Vistula, but that pontoon bridge (40 ton maximum) would be impassable for all main battle tanks, all new self-propelled guns and likely all heavy lorries laden with supplies.

On top of all that, their minister of defence is known to be of 'questionable sanity'.

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Suggestions for change

(1) Get a sane, productive minister of defence who is only obsessed with the possibility of a Russian strategic surprise attack on NATO - not with Jews, Germans or communists.

(2) Disband the navy or reduce it to a tiny, tiny navy.*

(3) Reduce the air force and change its concept; F-16s as only combat aircraft*, but keep them on a base farther than 500 km from Kaliningrad Oblast.

Replace the worthless air defence units with actually meaningful air defence units. The air force's area air defence forces should be capable of establishing a double redundancy line of batteries in the Northeast plus a cluster at Warsaw plus batteries capable of intercepting cruise missiles at several Vistula crossings. SAMP/T missile batteries (military off the shelf, development costs limited to Polish translations) may be capable of this, but to equip enough units would be very expensive.
One SAM battalion should be able to intercept transport aircraft en route to Kaliningrad Oblast. This requires long range surface-to-air missiles, and the only promising choice here is the expensive SM-6 missile, a naval SAM. It could be adapted for launching from trailers, with bare bones fire control that's dependent on datalinks (receiving target info from AWACS, Typhoons et cetera). This should suffice to stop air lift efforts into Kaliningrad Oblast. The battalion would need an organic security unit to protect against the stereotypical Spetznaz threat, just like the other SAM battalions.
One missile battalion should be able to hit targets at 300+ km. ATACMS Block II and the Israeli  LORA missile come to mind. This, too, would mostly be pointed at Kaliningrad Oblast airbases and also at stationary radars there. Again, a capable organic security unit would be required to make this battalion reliable.

(4) Reorient the army; mechanised brigades need to be based east of the Vistula river, somewhat close to Warsaw. There are enough tanks for five Leopard 2 battalions and four PT-91 battalions. Nine satisfactory combined arms brigades are thus possible, though the new modern SPGs need to be purchased quickly, and preferably in greater quantity than planned (about 50% more). These brigades also need meaningful short range air defences instead of the Cold War crap that's currently in their inventory. The SPAAG PZA Loara was stuck in the 1970's conceptually and thus cancelled with good reason.
The mechanised field forces could be organised in three divisions; one facing north (Kaliningrad Oblast), one facing northeast (Lithuania ) and one east (protecting Warsaw by facing Belarus). The two north/northeastern-facing divisions could be under one corps command, ideally including plenty German, Lithuanian and air force liaison/exchange officers at its HQ.
The Polish Land Forces have the same bad habit as the German Heer; many prototypes, usually too small purchases of production items. This needs to be changed.

Multiple reserve ('national guard') regiments with good infantry strength, useful anti-tank armament, old artillery pieces and at least a company worth of old tanks (for assault gun tactics) each should be available within 48 hours of a mobilization order. The quality expectations don't need to be high; a limited tactical repertoire coupled with good quantities would suffice for a rather territorial defence that's forming a kind of second layer of defence behind the mechanised brigades that would need to be capable of more mobile land warfare. One such regiment could include an active guard battalion and serve as security (and evacuation escort) element for the government in Warsaw.  Such reserve regiments can be maintained at relatively low expenses, making them cost-efficient within a rather narrow mission.

Military engineer units need to receive either the M3 Amphibious Rig or the French PFM in order to create one or multiple MLC 80 pontoon bridges over the Vistula river, and quickly so. Both systems are military off the shelf; the only development work required would be Polish translations.

A single independent light infantry ("airborne") battalion may be worth retaining, mostly as a channel to absorb foreign NATO infantry competence by participation in exercises. An entire such brigade (6th Airborne Brigade at Kraków) is larger than sensible and thus wasteful. The battalion would often be on exercises outside of Poland and thus be considered as a strategic reserve (available no quicker than mobilized units) in defence plans.

Most army munition stock depots should be east of the Vistula, but still in the Warsaw region. Resupply of the manoeuvre brigades needs to be assured without dependence on a many civilian lorries or reserve personnel, and the resupply needs to commence on the 2nd day of conflict. Much of the military personnel that has a sensible peacetime job but is dispensable in wartime could have a secondary (upon mobilization) assignment to such mobilisation logistics units. This includes ministry personnel, army schools personnel and so on.

My often-stated distrust in existing anti-tank guided missiles applies to the newly purchased Spike missiles of the Polish land forces as well, but it would be overoptimistic to expect them to invest in HVMs before other NATO armies do. The quantity of modern ATGM launchers (264) is rather insufficient even for only the (proposed: nine) mechanised brigades.

(5) Improve the road links with Lithuania.** 

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I implied a certain defence strategy here:
(1) Cut off Kaliningrad Oblast from reinforcements, then overrun it to eliminate the threats there (it could then serve as bargaining chip).
(2) Push into Lithuania early to prevent its  complete occupation.
(3) 2nd line forces serve as insurances that enable the commanders to shake off timidity and manoeuvre with some risk.
(4) The loss of Warsaw is politically unacceptable and thus it's OK to make it militarily unacceptable (munition depots) as well
(5) Poland is NATO and EU member and thus its national security is hinged on collective defence, rather than mere national defence. This means it can focus its forces on prevailing in the first week or two of conflict, until substantial allied reinforcements intervene.

My standard assertion was applied; proper deterrence and defence is possible without budget increases if only military policy and planning become smarter. Poland spends much already and doesn't need to spend more for national/collective security. I proposed nine active army manoeuvre brigades of two types (different by their Leo2 and PT-91 tank battalions), right now they have approx. (depends on how you count) twelve of lesser quality.

A Russian strategic surprise effect on NATO is highly unlikely. This is the result of our military spending and the service of our troops more than of anything else. There is little other purpose to military power in Europe than to keep such a scenario extremely unlikely. Hence the only justifiable obsession in regard to European military affairs is in my opinion the obsession with a Russian surprise attack. This does not justify excessive spending, though; the minimum level of effort required to keep such a scenario extremely unlikely is the level to aim for. There's much room for improvement in NATO other than spending and manpower increases.


*: It's likely politically impossible to get rid of them. 
**: Granted, this may rather be considered defence policy than fixing the armed forces.


  1. Polish army is known for wasting resources. It's systematic, so don't expect improvement. They order modified version of wheeled APC fram Patria - it was lightened for air transport, so less armour and they paid for modyfying original design - so they could stick it into Hercules plane - only not to order Hercules... Play of the decade. Then they order expensive and useless, unarmed Bryza planes only because manufacturer is their friend. For the price of latest contraption - ORP Ślązak - they could almost buy Burke destroyer...

  2. As far as I know, Antoni Macierewicz was really good chief of counterintelligence. It should be good place for person of extraordinarily weird political opinions - if only he was checked properly from above. At no point he should be minister of anything and speak his mind. But PiS.

    The Czechs have "good" tradition of AAD neglect (it goes well into the twenties) so it doesn`t help to see the same error in Poland. Our rapid reaction brigade or mechanised brigade, should they come to Poland`s help, has no proper organic AAD. And artillery... Still in seventies.

    However, the Poles are actually worried about too weak Bundeswehr also. So am I.

  3. I will tell you this, Karel. What horrifies me and many people is the collective lack of guts in our (Polish nad German) military. They operate like a welfare found. Entrenched bureaucracy is eager to repeat the mistakes of previous wars and block ambitious young leaders from going up.

    Russian army is not necessary better equipped and probably underfunded - but it knows its purpose and that makes a difference. In the unlike event of the war they would know what they want and would be running circles around us. They will disable costly planes with cheap grenades applied by suicide Specnaz squads. They will put a rocket barrage on Vistula bridges so they could do whataever they want on the east side.

    What we lack is smarts and vision, the same creativity that blitzkrieged France despite them having better tanks. Russians actually think that the war may be possible, that's why they will know what to do in this unlikely situation. Our genrals simply don't care. Apart from them it is always the weakest element that matters and we have no anti air and no serious bridging capability - because there is nobody inteligent left in the Ministry. I know for a fact that youngest soldiers and commanders in Polish army are dedicated - they excel because of their creativity - they can improvise on the spot and have many great ideas. In Iraq they could do much more than US Army if given the same equipment. It doesn't matter as they are denied resources and young commanders are blocked from advancing if they don't brownnose upper echelon. As we speak money and careers are wasted. It is my sincere opinon that, save Leopard 2 brigade and 48 F-16s, disbanding the whole army and buying modern rifles/effective RPGs for our Boy Scouts would produce significantly better results, especially in the situation when Russian Army no longer helds numerical superiority.

  4. An excellent status quo critique resulting in sound, detailed conclusions. There is not much of priority to add.*

    The stark delay in getting suitable bridging and engineering equipment must be a classic. The Italian procurement system does set up the bar pretty low, I confess.

    The positioning of the Polish brigades is really another classic explained only by path dependency, as you mentioned for the German airforce.

    The Italian press did embarrass itself with the "discovery" of "3000 tanks" but a Guardia Nazionale with on overall strong infantry focus could indeed make still good use of retired MBT, SPG and APC.

    Wouldn't the ground-launched SD Bomb make more sense for the Polish forces? In any case if the US goes for a new long range missle ATACMS II might become more affordable. Of course one never knows with military procurement.


    *A typo in the chapter "Status quo Critique" in the initial line about the Polish airforce. The only not entirely [un]realistic scenarios ...

    1. All U.S., British or French munitions are going to be too expensive. Russia won't deliver cheap ones.
      This leaves the Israeli LORA as prime MOTS product - of course out of reach with that kind of minister of defence...

      The air force reorientation would also go against pilots' interests, and thus hardly find much bureaucratic support. The '300 km' missile would probably need to be an army component. I listed it as an air force component because it's militarily the right thing to do, but it's not the easiest path in regard to politics and change management.

      GLSDB has only 150 km range, that would be insufficient unless Poland was the aggressor.

      I fixed the typo.

  5. Don't listen to anything what media in your country say about today's government, it's pure propaganda mostly. Just some wars between PO and PiS waged in US.
    But, this minister, just aborted contract for Caracal helicopters - needed thing, looking how old are ours army helis (MI-8, MI-17). But he is ok for spending billion dollars for Teritorial Defence (Obrona Terytorialna).
    IMHO, this whole army is made to retreat fast to Germany in case of war. Most of bases are in the same places as they were in communism times. A lot of money, but more corruption and private interests of politicians.

    1. This is news for me - I thought he would be utterly useless except for the intelligence part of the army, but it seems he is really trying.
      He seems much better than I have thought.


      As for retreat into Germany - do you think it will be only the army which retreats?

    2. In my opinion... Yes, they will retreat, and just leave some smaller units just to show "they tried". Important thing to note was that previous government was really pro - German, wanted to pick up immigrants etc, and current ones are more pro USA, and probably we will end up with S-70 as our army helicopters. Well, he's trying to do something, but when the governments are changing in my country, many contracts are cancelled, and that's the case with Caracals.
      What do you think, which helicopter would be better, Caracal, S-70 or Agusta Westland? Cause these are the only ones in the competition IIRC

  6. "Cut off Kaliningrad Oblast from reinforcements, then overrun it to eliminate the threats there (it could then serve as bargaining chip)"

    Overrunning Kaliningrad removes its usefulness as a bargaining chip and instead becomes an invasion of Russian territory. That is hardly a de-escalatory move likely to give the Russkies pause for thought. Actually it would do the opposite. Laying siege to it is sufficient for NATO to come n and mediate a resolution or send reinforcements. Any unilateral action against Kaliningrad would negate Article 5 commitments and hand the Russians a propaganda coup.

    1. Difficult to lay siege to it if the Russian army is in Lithuania at the time of a truce, for example.
      And frankly, everything from Sakhalin to Kaliningrad is fair game if one attacks NATO.

      Article 5 doesn't prohibit a counteroffensive into aggressor territory; it prohibits a war of aggression (such as the attack on Iraq 2003, invasion of Laos, invasion of Panama etc.).

      I also doubt that deescalatory move work well on Putin. He quickly withdrew from Georgia in 2008, but I don't quite know why exactly.

      My assumption for future conflict is that he wants to avoid losing face, doesn't want to risk his Russian imperial revival project and doesn't want to risk losing power. A big bargaining chip sounds very effective compared to a mere pleading to please leave the invaded states again.

  7. Sven, curious if you would be interested In doing the same as above for French, Italian and Spanish land power?

  8. I don't think your comments or ideas are arrogant. You lay out your ideas with explanation and common sense solutions. I have to say this is one of my favorite series you have done on your blog. I'm interested in what you'd suggest for France and Spain?

    1. Thanks. France is super complicated because I don't understand their Africa thing, and Spain would end up being very similar to Italy (Feb 2017).

  9. I figured Spain would be similar to Italy. Maybe France is a combination of Germany and the U.K. The Foreign Legion for the Africa stuff which I also don't understand. Regardless it's a great series with others like Sweden, Norway, Finland, Australia, Japan, S. Korea as potential targets for future blogging boredom (hint hint).

    1. There was a text for North korea, in a way...