Armed Forces

Krab Howitzer: 15 Years Have Passed. December Decision to End the Crisis?

  • Fot. ARP S.A.
    Fot. ARP S.A.

PGZ claims that in December it will undertake decisions regarding whether production of the Krab howitzers should be continued. After 15 years from signing the license, 8 self-propelled Krab howitzers have been procured by the Polish Army, and further purchases are hindered by problems related to production of chassis for such artillery systems. 

- Several years reserved to realize such project, is, to put it mildly, certainly too long. In December we will decide on the business model which is to be implemented in the production process of the Krab howitzers – as it has been declared by Wojciech Dąbrowski, President of the Board in PGZ SA [Polish Armament Group – Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa]. The Polish Armament Group did not disclose any details related to the arrangements. The activity aiming at procuring platforms which would be proper for the Krab howitzers from sources beyond the Bumar-Łabedy facility met an intensive resistance on the side of the trade unions. At the same time, negotiations regarding modernisation  of the Leopard tanks are also going on.

In a response to the questions stated by, Wojciech Dąbrowski explains which criteria have been the driving values which had an impact on decisions regarding the Krab howitzers: Firstly, the Polish Army needs to receive reliable equipment of high quality, as quick as it is possible. Secondly, the defence industry must get some technological benefits from that. Thirdly, the employees who are employed by our company must have their jobs guaranteed. These declarations show that, most probably, the management of the PGZ company will decide to start a licensed production of the Krab’s chassis in Poland. The component would be obtained from an external contractor. This, in its basic assumption, would make it possible to protect the employees. However, it is still pretty hard to predict the future and the final solution which is to be adopted.

Krab Howitzer programme is one of the most important modernization programmes carried out by the Polish Army, because its aim is to provide a mobile weapon with the operational range of at least 40 kilometres. The license agreement related to the British AS-90 turrets fith a 155 mm cannon featuring a 52-calibre long barrel has been signed back in 1999. The turrets have been based on a modified SUM-Kalina mine removing vehicle, which has been created with the use of components of the PT-91 Twardy tanks.

Until now, the 8 howitzers have been delivered, however, according to the plan 24 vehicles were to be procured by 2015. Back in 2010 structural defects have been detected in hulls of 6 out of 8 self-propelled cannons delivered – all of the cannons, excluding the two prototypes. The reason for that stemmed from high level of hydrogen exposure inflicted on the metal sheets, nonetheless, it has not been established whether bad quality of material or processing errors that occurred at the Bumar-Łabędy facility have been a reason for that.

Bumar Łabędy facility made attempts to create new hulls, made out of proven materials imported from foreign suppliers, with additional technological supervision granted by the Stalowa Wola Ironworks. According to the unofficial, unconfirmed but not denied information, the bodies made out of new materials have also contained defects, which eliminated a possibility of using them.

Despite the fact that 15 years have passed since the license agreement was signed, the issue of procurement of the self-propelled howitzers for the Polish Army still remains unsolved. - Good Job carried out by the Stalowa Wola Ironworks is hindered by the  Bumar-Łabędy facility. Three trade unions which blackmail the management board with politicians and general strikes are acting there. Will the Army accept a chassis which is falling apart? Which is breaking? It’s obvious they will not do it. The Krab project needs to involve a foreign partner, since this weapon system is very important for the Land Forces. I stress that – this is a strategic programme, which involved a lot of money, energy and work of several subjects. We should not leave it as it is. – as it is stressed by Gen. Waldemar Skrzypczak in his interview for

Korean Chassis? Trade unions: No

Back in September, the Rzeczpospolita daily has released information according to which potential purchase of chassis for the Krab howitzer could be realized with help from the  Samsung Techwin company. The unofficial information suggests that the South Korean company declares to be ready to deliver a prototype of the chassis, ready for the state tests, in the first half of 2015.

Signs of procurement of the chassis from another contractor have provoked a rejection on the side of the representatives of the trade unions in Gliwice-based Bumar-Łabędy facility. NSZZ Solidarność (Independent Self-governing Labour Union “Solidarity”) leader in Bumar-Łabędy stated in his interview for, that acquisition of the Korean chassis is “out of any question” when the works are being carried out. Head of the trade union stresses the fact that the staff at the facility will begin a strike, should any changes be made in the Krab programme, which would be unfavourable for the Łabędy facility. - We have reached out to Minister Mroczek and Ministry of Defence and sent a letter stating that we are in the middle of the process and thinking of ordering Korean made chassis is absolutely out of question. Our protest will go on –  as it has been declared by Goliszewski.

Goliszewski is supported by the Electric Machinery Industry Trade Union of the Bumar – Łabędy facility. The statement sent to the editing team of reads: Trade Unions that act within the- ZM "BUMAR - Łabędy" S.A. facility express their dissatisfaction and outrage caused by the fact that the KRAB howitzers are to be purchased beyond the borders of our country, e.g. in Korea (…) Employees of our company are frustrated with such course of events and protests cannot be avoided. We will tell the media about our problems and we will defend our positions and our facility.

General Skrzypczak criticizes the stance taken by the trade unions. He stated that the key issue which is forgotten is the fact, that the Army has not yet received the equipment needed: - Łabędy facility got many chances throughout the years – they have proven that they have no sufficient skill. It’s all about the jobs, and not about execution and finishing of the programme. – as Gen. Waldemar Skrzypczak stated.

Deputy Minister Threatens that the Contract may be Terminated

During the meeting of Parliament on 6th November, MoD Secretary of State, Czesław Mroczek, stated that the howitzer programme is “incredibly important” for the Polish Armed Forces. He also threatened that the contract would be terminated, should any further delays occur -  I will not tolerate the current situation. (…) I want the main contractor to deliver the project for assessment of execution, or the contract will be dissolved. 

MP Jerzy Sądel spoke on behalf of the Bumar Łabędy facility during that meeting. In his opinion purchasing the chassis for Krab howitzers abroad would not speed up introduction of the howitzers into service in the Polish Army. It would also be a threat to the jobs within a facility, which is a part of the state armament industry.

Deputy Minister Mroczek has, in his response, indicated that the chassis have more and more defects, while the Stalowa Wola Ironworks stated that delivering the Krab Howitzers on the chassis manufactured by the Bumar-Łabędy facility will be impossible, That means that future of the facility is shaped by products which may be sold – Mroczek Concluded.

Leopard Tanks Headed to Gliwice?

Minister Mroczek, during the same Parliamentary meeting reminded the participants that the Bumar-Łabędy facility are involved in another set of works within the technical modernization programme of the Polish Armed Forces. When Mroczek assessed the capabilities of the facility, he stressed the fact that they may be involved, inter alia, in the modernization programme of the ex-Bundeswehr Leopard 2A4 tanks.

General Waldemar Skrzypczak doubts whether the Łabędy facility would be able to modernize the Leopards independently, and in his opinion the situation is similar, as in case of the Krab howitzers – representatives of the Gliwice based facility are in no position to decide on the strategic modernization programmes. Here the situation is pretty much similar to the one related to the Krab howitzers. Currently the Łabędy facility claims that they want to execute everything on their own, without any involvement in cooperation with any other facility. In my opinion the facility in Łabędy will not be able to accomplish any task on their own. Firstly due to the fact that Łabędy has no competence, nor the technological infrastructure needed for the job. Experience is an important factor related to the complicated refurbishment operations of the Leopard tanks, along with knowledge and documents. And within that scope the situation is basically very, very bad. What is more, nothing has been done to rectify this status.

According to Skrzypczak this may lead to a situation in which the German Krauss-Maffei Wegmann company would play the leading part in the Leopard tanks modernization programme, since the Polish subjects are not capable of fulfilling the task.  Unfortunately, the Germans are in favour of the Bumar-Łabędy’s stance, and the stance of the trade unions. In this situation Krauss-Maffei Wegmann will be the main player executing the modernization at own facilities, using own resources. Such negative scenario may come true if solely a single Party sets the conditions. – as it is stressed by General Skrzypczak. It is worth to note that MoD decided on negotiating the modernization programme related to the Leopard tanks only with a single foreign subject, which made the German party less “flexible”.

The fact that there is no will to cooperate with any industrial partner is also proven by the statement of the Solidarity Trade Union representative, Zdzisław Goliszewski, who stressed the fact that the “members of the trade union do not grant consent to the fact that Poznan becomes new home for a facility which would manufacture and modernize the armoured equipment”. Similar claim has been made by MP Jerzy Sądel: I want to add that the contract regarding the modernization of the Leopard tanks was to be fully executed by the Bumar-Łabędy facility. It turns out that they get only half of the contract,  since the other half is to be realized by the facility in Poznan.

Final decisions regarding modernization of the Leopard tanks are to be taken yet in 2014.

Armoured armament problems to be solved by PGZ?

Politicians, members of the military and representatives of the Polish defence industry agree on the fact that manufacturing the Krab howitzers and modernizing the Leopard tanks are to be treated with the highest priority throughout the upcoming years. The situation in which the whole programme is stopped due to a single company based in Poland is detrimental both for the Polish Armament Industry, as well as for the Polish Army – who are the main partners and clients here.

Declaration made by President Wojciech Dąbrowski, related to the decisions regarding the Krab howitzers, which are to be undertaken by the end of this year, is a good sign for the future of the whole group. Polish Armament Group has been created in order to refine the field and solve such problems – as it is stressed by  Dąbrowski. If these statements are proven by effective decisions which are to be undertaken to solve the Krab problem, which is a Gordian knot of the Polish defence industry, then the PGZ company is going to starts its existence with a great success.

PGZ, which has been founded back in 2014, seems to be the only subject which would be able to maintain orderly relationship between the industry, the MoD and the military. Effectiveness of the PGZ activity will have an impact on many strategic projects of the technical modernization programme of the Polish Armed Forces, which has been started 2 years ago. These projects include modernization of the Leopard tanks.

Will the PGZ group be able to face the challenge? This is yet to be seen, however it is important that it is capable of managing projects which, for a variety of reasons, are blocked. Until now,  without any consequences, MoD did not get the equipment it needed, while the industry started numerous projects known as projects,  prototypes or demonstrators...

Jędrzej Graf, Juliusz Sabak