Today Poland announced its selection of the U.S. Raytheon Company, supplier of the Patriot air defense system, as its strategic partner for the modernization of the country’s air and missile defense (AMD) systems (negotiations will now proceed, with the final contract to be inked in 2016). In addition to the AMD decision, the Polish government also selected Airbus for further negotiation on the helicopter contract for the French EC725 Caracal model to meet the 50 unit requirement stipulated in the ongoing modernization of the Polish army; selection of the supplier of a new attack helicopter model is still to come.
The Patriot selection is the centerpiece of the largest military modernization program to date in Poland. Ten billion dollars will be spent just on modernizing Poland’s air and missile defense systems, with roughly half of that money going to missile defenses. All told, Poland plans to spend $37 billion on its armed forces modernization by 2022, making it the leading NATO spender in the Baltic-Central European theater and an increasingly important U.S. ally along NATO’s northeastern flank, especially as the security condition in Eastern Europe continues to deteriorate in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Poland’s decision to select the U.S. system for its AMD is potentially transformative for its defense industry, as a significant portion of the contract value will be sourced through Polish industry. In the coming years Poland’s decision to select a U.S. partner will translate into enhanced cooperation with the United States across the board, including a significant opportunity to leverage the existing capabilities of the Polish defense industry and to modernize it in the process. It will make Poland the 14th member of the Patriot “user community,” with a combined annual modernization budget of approximately $1 billion. The Polish AMD program calls for acquiring six batteries by 2022, with two additional to follow.
The Polish AMD modernization program will fill a critical gap in Poland’s and NATO’s defense capabilities. The way is also open for future agreements that would allow Poland’s system to assume rotations in NATO similar to those provided by other European allies that already operate Patriots.
Today’s announcement, however, has broader political significance. To put Warsaw’s defense efforts in perspective, Poland’s projected expenditures roughly equal that of all the remaining 11 “new allies” who joined NATO from 1999 onward.
Poland’s decision will impact the ongoing debate in NATO on spending levels, pooling, and sharing. At a time when complaints about Europe’s reluctance to spend on its own defense are de rigeur in Washington, Warsaw is sending a different message: There are countries in Europe that are serious about defense and working closely with the United States. With NATO returning to its core mission of deterrence and territorial defense, Poland’s modernization program is in harmony with the push in NATO for the European allies to shoulder more of the collective defense burden.