Huta Stalowa Wola: Eight Decades for the Polish Security [REPORT]

HSW assures that by the year 2019 it is going to be ready to start delivering the ZSSW-30 remote control turret systems, developed within the framework of a consortium-driven project. The system has been designed with the Rosomak APC and Borsuk IFV in mind. Image Credit: Jerzy Reszczyński/archive.
HSW assures that by the year 2019 it is going to be ready to start delivering the ZSSW-30 remote control turret systems, developed within the framework of a consortium-driven project. The system has been designed with the Rosomak APC and Borsuk IFV in mind. Image Credit: Jerzy Reszczyński/archive.

One could potentially play a mind-game as follows: “What the Polish defence would look like, had it not been for the Central Industrial District and its pearl: the HSW company?” As we are celebrating the Centenary of the Polish independence and 80th anniversary of the HSW company, it is worth to recall the facts that would make the assessment of the role played by the “Subcarpathian Armoury” (as HSW once used to be called) possible, with regards to its past, present and future relevance.

Nowadays, Huta Stalowa Wola is one of the most important facilities of the Polish defence industry. HSW S.A. is also a part of the PGZ Group. The Polish military receives Regina squadron fire modules based around the Krab self-propelled howitzer and Rak self-propelled mortars from HSW. The company is also working on two systems that would play a key role in modernization of the Polish armoured and mechanized assets: ZSSW-30 remote controlled turret system armed with a rapid-firing cannon and anti-tank armament and new amphibious IFV known as Borsuk. The successful implementation of these projects and subsequent introduction of those systems into the inventory of the Polish military would make it possible to withdraw the obsolete Soviet BMP-1 platform.

HSW’s 80th Anniversary is also related to the Centenary of the Polish independence. HSW S.A. has been founded as an element of the key industrial programme pursued by the Second Republic of Poland: the Central Industrial District (abbreviated COP). HSW continued its manufacturing activities during the World War II to later become an important element of the defence industry of the Polish People's Republic after 1945. The facility has survived the transformation, while, in the recent years, the company has been experiencing an investment growth. It is also delivering modern armament systems for the Polish military.

Southern Plant – The Artillery Armoury of the Second Republic

The Central Industrial District, established in the so called triangle of safety based around the area between the Vistula and San rivers at a safe distance from the Western and Eastern borders of the Second Republic, was the most significant economic project of the resurgent Poland. The COP concept was developed by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Treasury, Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski. The project was based on analytical work carried out in 1928. The conclusions were further expanded by brothers: Władysław and Paweł Kosieradzki; within their written statements created in late 1936 and directed to the General Inspectorate of the Armed Forces.

And this is how the current HSW S.A. company was established in the spring of 1937. All was done with shovels, wheelbarrows, manual labour and determination. Image Credit: Jerzy Reszczyński/archive


Even though the detailed plans related to the Central Industrial District were presented during a parliamentary meeting on 4th February 1937, 1st July 1936 is the formally adopted date of district establishment. Ultimately the area limits were defined in April 1938 and COP covered 59 951 square kilometres – one sixth of the whole Polish territory at the time. The area had a population of 5.6 million, almost 20% of the whole Polish population. Following the COP-related investments, 55 thousand jobs were to be created at the major facilities, 36 thousand at smaller industrial centres and in the area of manufacturing, with 10 thousand jobs to follow in the services domain. It was assumed that major investments would be made at the existing industrial centres, including: Rzeszów, Lublin, Kraśnik, Dęba, Dębica, Mielec, Starachowice, Pionki, Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski, Tarnów, Radom, Nowa Sarzyna, Tarnobrzeg.

The only facility included in the plans made with regards to the new District that was to be created from a scratch in the virgin land was the Southern Plant (Zakłady Południowe) factory. The aforesaid plant was to be established in the entirely afforested area of the Sandomierz Wilderness. The ZP’s purpose would be to manufacture artillery armament and modern types of steel. Furthermore, the facility would be tasked with manufacturing turbines for the energy industry. Also aluminium works were to be founded alongside, to meet the demand created by the aviation industry.

The location has been set in the vicinity of the Pławo village, between the Nisko garrison town and Rozwadów focused on the railway industry. Not only was selection of this location motivated by social factors (high level of unemployment and cheap labour), but primarily it was driven by factors of technical nature: vicinity of the Sandomierz-Jarosław state road, vicinity of the railway network and of a large railway node, and of the San river, perceived as a shipping route and water reservoir for the industrial plants, power generation plant and for the city that all were to be established here. It was already assumed at the time that a housing estate is going to be established close to the ZP facility, that was ultimately to be turned into a modern city with population of 50 thousand. For the sake of comparison, Lublin had a population of 120 thousand at the time, Rzeszów: 28 thousand, Mielec: 7 thousand, while Sandomierz that was to become a central point of COP: only 8 thousand. The history of Stalowa Wola and of the Southern Plant is best illustrated by the timeline.

On 19th January 1937 an agreement was signed by and between the representatives of two state-owned economic bodies: “Pokój” [Peace] metal works of the Śląskie Zakłady Górniczo-Hutnicze S.A. [Silesian Mining-Metalwork Facility] and the Towarzystwo Starachowickich Zakładów Górniczych S.A. [Association of Starachowcice Mining Plants]. “Zakłady Południowe Sp. z o.o. in Nisko” limited liability company was founded. The first pine on the construction site was cut on 20th March 1937. The first facility of the plant was ready in December - the tool shop. Mechanical works followed in February 1938. It was in March 1938 when the first cannons manufactured at the ZP facility were test fired. In early September 1938 the first steel melting process took place. More facilities were then handed off for use every few weeks.

The construction works involved 2.5 thousand workers, with another 1.5 working on the housing estate located close to the facility. The settlement received a name of “Stalowa Wola”. It was designed from a scratch as a complementary complex offering luxurious conditions. Not only were flats constructed, for around 4.5 thousand persons, before the war, as infrastructure (including roads, sewers, pipelines, shops, vocational school, grammar-school, hotels, restaurants and a hospital) was also established. When it turned out that a primary school would also be needed here, it was designed and erected in 92 days. It still serves its purpose today, similarly to blocks of flats, villas and other buildings. Not only were the buildings being built rapidly, they were also being built in a reliable manner so that they could last for decades to come.

The construction works of the “Zakłady Południowe” complex were the main goal of the Polish authorities at the time. Stalowa Wola was being regularly and frequently visited by the military and by the most important politicians, including the President of Poland, Ignacy Mościcki. Image Credit: Jerzy Reszczyński/archive.
The construction works of the “Zakłady Południowe” complex were the main goal of the Polish authorities at the time. Stalowa Wola was being regularly and frequently visited by the military and by the most important politicians, including the President of Poland, Ignacy Mościcki. Image Credit: Jerzy Reszczyński/archive.

Manufacturing for the Polish military involved in a 4-years modernization programme was the primary task assigned to the newly established industrial complex. The artillery department of the whole industrial centre initially based the new armament designs on collaboration with the leading European manufacturers staying outside the Third Reich’s and Soviet Russia’s zone of influence, coming from France, Sweden and the Czech Republic. At the same time, work was being undertaken to create pioneer products of Polish design. Initially the Southern Plant was assembling cannons made out of elements delivered from Starachowice and by the Hipolit Cegielski plant in Rzeszów, gradually increasing own involvement in the final manufacturing process. The first 100 mm howitzers assembled at the ZP facility, with barrels and recoil mechanisms provided by the Starachowice plant, were ready in March 1938, a year after preparation had begun to establish the “Zakłady Południowe” plant.

Series manufacturing of the 100 mm mod. 1914/1919 howitzers in P and A versions has been launched at the ZP facility in the first quarter of 1939 with 16 examples manufactured per month. Model 29 105 mm and 75 mm cannons were the next designs that were introduced into production. The ZP facility was also manufacturing components for other plants of the Central Industrial region, especially for use in case of the license-manufactured Bofors system 37 mm anti-tank and 40 mm anti aircraft cannons. Manufacturing of more products was being prepared, including the 120 mm infantry mortar of own design and 320 mm (or 310 mm) heavy mortar weighing more than 30 tonnes, designed in collaboration with the Swedish Bofors company. The Polish military was planning to acquire 12 mortars as such. The cannon designed and prepared for being manufactured at the Stalowa Wola plants was to fire 417 kg mines at distances of up to 14 kilometres. Unfortunately, the qualification procedures were not completed by the end of August 1939. Manufacturing was to be launched on 1st September 1939.

Cannons manufactured at the ZP facility were handed off on 14th June 1939. The plant was also consecrated on that date. The construction process was pronounced to be completed, after 26 months and 26 days. Image Credit: Jerzy Reszczyński/archive.  
Cannons manufactured at the ZP facility were handed off on 14th June 1939. The plant was also consecrated on that date. The construction process was pronounced to be completed, after 26 months and 26 days. Image Credit: Jerzy Reszczyński/archive.  

Similar circumstances occurred in case of preparation of the 200 mm howitzer and 155 mm cannon manufacturing processes at “Zakłady Południowe”. The latter armament was to replace the obsolete 155 mm model 1917 Schneider howitzers. 340 examples of this system were used by the Polish military. It is not known whether the cannon actually reached a stage of development which would have made the declarations of production launch in the autumn of 1939 realistic.

Right before the war, a decision was made to acquire a licence in France, to manufacture a modern 90 mm anti-aircraft cannon in Stalowa Wola. This cannon, a counterpart of the German universal 8.8 cm design, was to act as a complement to the great 75 mm Szymański anti aircraft guns, allowing the user to act against targets flying at higher altitudes and at a greater distance.

However, the Poles had ran out of time before they launched the production of those designs. The ZP facility which was still being launched, offered jobs for 3400 persons just before the war. 950 employees were working at the Mechanical Department dealing with military manufacturing, with another 1500 working at the metal processing plant. Considering the technology, the Polish plant was ranked among the European leaders of the defence industry, using a number of innovative technologies. The Stalowa Wola complex was the first one to use natural gas for the purpose of powering the blast furnaces.

The annual production rate of the ZP facility was defined as 480 examples of the 75 and 100 mm field cannons, 48 examples of the 105 mm cannons, 72 examples of the 155 mm cannons, along with 16 examples of 75 mm barrels, 32 examples of 100 mm barrels and 12 examples of 155 mm barrels, along with unspecified quantities of 37 and 40 mm barrels. Despite the efficient effort focused on introduction of new products, the Poles were unable to launch all of the production programmes before the war broke out. However, the fact that preparation to start manufacturing of such products is somewhat a reflection of the actual potential the facility had at the time.

The fact is: Stalowa Wola industrial complex was established in 26 months and 26 days which is seemingly impossible. It has gained its potential in only 775 days from cutting the first pine on 20th March 1937 to the event of opening by President Ignacy Mościcki, on 14th June 1939. One should still remember about the civil engineering technology employed at the time, involving wheelbarrows, shovels, trowels and wagons. One should also take into account the poor qualifications of most of the workers involved in the initiative. These deficiencies were balanced by the highly qualified managers and engineers. The construction initiative concerning the ZP complex and further operations undertaken by the facility involved the best experts available in Poland. Good salaries could have been expected both at the ZP construction site, as well as in case of further employment when the complex was finally launched. The construction works made use of the best materials, no wonder then, that the budget was significantly exceeded. When the government was reluctant to meet the site management’s requirements, it was said: “You either get Stalowa Wola as it should be, or you won’t get it at all”.

German Occupation

During the September Campaign the captured Luftwaffe pilots admitted that they were banned from bombing the “Southern Plant” area. The only bomb that strayed into this area, hitting a corner of the rolling mill and killing a few employees, was most probably a result of a mistake. The plant, similarly as the Wytwórnia Płatowców nr 2 [Airframe Manufacturing Facility No. 2] based in Mielec fell into the hands of the Germans in a perfect condition. The ZP facility became a part of the Hermann Goering Werke under the name of Werk Stalowa Wola and thus the said infrastructure became a part of the Third Reich arms industry. Despite the deficiencies in employment (some of the employees emigrated from Stalowa Wola or hid their actual qualifications not wanting to work for the occupant), the plant was intensely overexploited by the Germans. Here, metal processing was the primary focus, but the facility was used also to repair the artillery hardware. Following the aggression of Germany directed against the Soviet Union, the plant was used to widely change the calibre of the artillery assets taken over from the Russians, so that it matched the German standards. Significant quantities of parts for 37, 75, 105 and 155 mm cannons, bomb shells and artillery shells and U-boot periscopes and elements of the PzKpfw V Panther tanks were all being manufactured here. When the Allies intensified their bombing raids against the factories located in the Third Reich, manufacturing of some of the components and then complete 88 mm cannons production was transferred to Stalowa Wola. Between 1943 and 1944, as the available sources suggest, 250 cannons of a variety of types were manufactured monthly at the facilities in Stalowa Wola.

The occupation was also a time during which the Polish resistance was very active at the ZP facility. Numerous acts of sabotage were taking place, however the activities targeted against the Germans were conducted in a way which would protect the employees from potential repressions. Elements of weaponry for the resistance were also manufactured at the facility, behind the backs of the Germans. One of the most spectacular successes of the AK (Home Army) intelligence was the brave operation of spring 1944. The Polish resistance managed to copy and steal the precious design documentation of the Flak 88 cannon from a safe, one of the most famous pieces of WWII armament. The documents were then airlifted and transferred to the allies.

The Germans left the facility behind in a very bad shape, with devastated and overexploited machinery and plundered key equipment (tools and test systems and measuring equipment). Most of the machinery was transported to other facilities of the Third Reich. Recovery of the manufacturing property lasted until autumn of 1948. Never were the Poles able to attain full recovery and reach the status of Pre-War autumn. The most technologically advanced element of the facility was lost, and could not have been recovered. Noteworthy: the cost of establishing the ZP facility was estimated at the level of PLN 100 million, while the occupant plundered around 20% of its total value.

Huta Stalowa Wola in the Polish People's Republic

After the Germans were pushed out by the Red Army in August 1944, the “Zakłady Południowe” facility, which was also the largest industrial plant in the Polish territory controlled by the Soviets, had a role assigned to help the frontline. The frontline, until the January offensive against the German that took place in 1945, was located at the Vistula river, only 25 km away. Here, at the Sandomierz-Baranów and Warka-Magnuszew points of the frontline, heavy fighting occurred, involving major quantities of artillery and armour. The Stalowa Wola complex was used to repair the equipment damaged during the fight.

After the frontline shifted west, demand for such services went down, to go down to zero following the end of the war. The facility that was renamed and became Huta Stalowa Wola on 10th March 1948 focused on manufacturing equipment needed for recovery by the country that was devastated. HSW manufactured roof-tiles manufacturing systems, presses and vibration tables, ploughs and threshers, jackhammers, scissors, pumps or ball bearings. The facility was also making attempts at manufacturing passenger cars and cargo vehicles, including electric cars, and equipment for the mining industry. HSW ultimately reached its primary speciality, manufacturing construction equipment, including track excavators, loaders, transport carts for the industry, compressors, concrete mixers and cranes for civil engineering, track bulldozers and pipeline layers. The metallurgy department at HSW was thriving in manufacturing special-purpose steel for instance for the shipbuilding industry, including stainless steel, tool steel and heat-resistant steel.

Within the period between 1945 and 1989 Poland was not a sovereign state and it was dominated by USSR. This also had a relevant impact on the activities undertaken by HSW, subordinated to the priorities of the Soviet defence programmes imposed by Moscow, within the framework of the Warsaw Pact activities. The Polish People's Republic adopted a policy of expanding its military, so that it could be acting for the Warsaw Pact. This entailed major orders submitted at HSW, mainly concerning products license manufactured for the USSR. On the other hand, the ability to introduce original designs was greatly limited. Despite the above, some of them were also introduced at that time.

Arms manufacturing was returning to the HSW facility in a rhythm aligned with the evolving international situation. The intensification of armament production depended on the policy of the competing political-military blocks. The same factors applied to stagnation of orders directed to the defence industry. The proxy wars were ongoing between the superpowers since the early 1950s. There, the zone of influence was being set by force: in the Korean Peninsula, in Indochina, in the Middle East or in Africa.

HSW was becoming a part of the Soviet political and armament-related programmes proportionally to the offered know-how and potential. For reasons that remained obvious, artillery programmes were the main domain in which the facility was being involved. Similarly as before the war, license-designs were the beginning. In this case, the licenses were provided by the Soviet Union. License manufacturing became a part of the S production programme (S - special purpose). 122 mm model 30 M30 towed howitzer was the first of the S-designated products. It was designed in 1938 and it was the primary cannon used by the Red Army during WWII (17.5 thousand examples were made until 1945). Even though this piece of kit was considered to be obsolete in 1945, its simple design, durability and effectiveness made it useful for the next several years in the military. The German Army was using this weapon when fighting in the Atlantic Wall area, meanwhile, the Russians were still using 700 cannons as such in Europe in 1995 - they survived following a modernization programme executed in 1980s. These guns were still being used after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. When Poland was being introduced into the NATO structure the Polish artillery units still had 280 cannons of this type in their inventory.

122 mm M30 howitzer, factory designation: S1. Image Credit: Jerzy Reszczyński/archive.
122 mm M30 howitzer, factory designation: S1. Image Credit: Jerzy Reszczyński/archive.

S1/M-30 was being manufactured for 10 years at Stalowa Wola. There is no credible data available defining the quantity of the M-30 cannons manufactured at HSW. It is known that majority of the weaponry manufactured between 1951 and 1960 was exported, but the definition of “export” differs now, from the understanding of the word at the time. It was not up to HSW to decide as to who would be buying its “special” products and what the price would be. The export was a subject to political decisions.

Following this period, new products were being launched annually. In 1951 the S3 product was launched: it was the 85 mm model 39 KS-12 anti-aircraft cannon with parameters similar to the German “Acht-komma-acht”. This product was being used by the Reed Army during the WWII, while the Germans were modifying the captured guns to shoot the 88 mm rounds in Stalowa Wola. Major quantities of the 8,5/8,8 cm Flak M.39 cannon were used in the German air defence system. HSW was manufacturing this gun until the year 1958.

In the meantime, as Poland acquired a license to manufacture the T-34/85 tanks, D-5T cannon manufacturing was launched at HSW in 1952. The cannon was known under the S6 designation. Even though the Soviet Union finalized the production effort related to this vehicle in 1950, after manufacturing 44 thousand examples, Poland and Czechoslovakia started the manufacturing only after the final tanks rolled off the production line in the Soviet Russia. 1400 T-34/85 main battle tanks were manufactured in Poland, with a corresponding number of cannons manufactured at HSW, along with a spare parts supply.

At the beginning of the Cold War, HSW started to manufacture further cannons rooted in the times of WWII. These products included: Model 44 85 mm divisional gun (manufactured between 1955 and 1962 under the S7 designation), and KS-19 air defence gun complementing the KS-12 gun, designed to act against airborne targets flying at high altitudes. HSW was manufacturing this gun between 1956 and 1959. It was a 100 mm gun with muzzle velocity of 1000 meters per second that could be coupled with modern radar aiming systems and artillery aiming solutions. It became a primary piece of armament for the Warsaw Pact and it was capable of shooting airborne targets down, flying at altitudes of up to 15 400 metres. A variety of ammunition developed for this gun and design solutions implemented in case of its aiming systems also made it possible to use it as an effective anti-tank weapon. Furthermore, semi-automatic loader, hydraulic tracking system and design of the breach and other mechanisms of the cannon also made it possible to use standard 100 mm tank rounds with it. Such rounds were the standard ammunition used by the T-54/T-55 tank platforms.

D-44/D-44N divisional gun manufactured between 1955 and 1965, even though rooted in the times of war, still offered some modernization potential. 56-calibres long barrel and high muzzle velocity (1050 metres per second for sabot rounds) contributed to high accuracy, good penetration and ability to act against targets at ranges of up to 15650 metres. This, fused with low weight and rate of fire of up to 20 rounds per minute made the gun in question useful for artillery units for several years. This was also amplified by major modernization potential the cannon offered. Back in 1985 it underwent relevant upgrades, for instance it was equipped with night vision targeting systems making it possible to effectively neutralize the targets at night or in the fog.

The two guns listed above were in fact the last of the Polish-made towed cannons. AT (Artileriyskiy Tiagach) Artillery Tractors were developed with those designs in mind, tailored to tow guns belonging to a variety of classes. HSW was also mass manufacturing (between 1961 and 1989) the ATS59 machine used by the Soviet Union, not only in the Army but also for transport purposes in the oil fields or in Siberia. Between 1960 and 1961 HSW was manufacturing components of the Polish Mazur artillery tractors, 57 mm air defence gun barrels, 122 and 152 mm howitzer platforms, chassis elements and components for radars.

In the 1960s HSW also became a part of mass manufacturing of the SKOT (Střední Kolový Obrněný Transportér) APC. The Polish industry manufactured around 2.5 thousand examples of this platform that was, for instance, being exported to India.
During that period HSW was also making attempts to enrich its production programme with its own designs. The attempts had a varying degree of success. The HSW facility, as the first entity in Poland, introduced rocket artillery system technologies into the domestic defence industry.Naval S32 missile launcher and Naval S32M (WM-18A) missile launcher designed as a support weapon for the landing ships manufactured at the Polish shipyards was the first product of the class, it was a naval counterpart of the BM-14 system developed back in the 1950s. The system was being installed on the bow of the Polish landing ships, 2 launchers on each vessel. Each launcher featured 18 140 mm missile guides. Maximum shooting range with the use of the 39 kg M-14OF missiles was defined as 9.8 kilometres. HSW has manufactured at least several hundred systems as such in 1960s and 1970s. Along with Project 770 and 771 warships and with their derivatives more than 100 launchers of the type were being used by several fleets around the world.

The experience gathered with regards to the WM-18 system resulted in introduction of light towed 140 mm 8-rail rocket launchers, that could be attached to a light all-terrain vehicle or used by the airborne units. WP-8z had a range identical to WM-18 - more than 9800 metres. It was to constitute a major enhancement of the firepower for the airborne units, using mainly mortars and B-11 107 mm recoilless rifles. Ultimately the launchers were to replace the B-11s, when those started to be withdrawn in the 1970s.

The 100 mm tank cannon was an important, classic product created at HSW during the initial phase of its development. Before production of the S6 tank cannon for the T-34/85 main battle tanks came to an end in 1957, HSW had started to manufacture the modern D-10T cannons under the S8 designation, destined for the next generation main battle tanks - the mass manufactured T-54/T-55 platforms. This tank which became one of the most popular designs after WWII was rooted in the late years of the war. The designers wanted to create a fighting vehicle that made use of all of the T-34’s advantages that would be fused with a more powerful cannon derived from the SU-100 self propelled gun, initially designed for the Navy. This cannon was known as D-10S (“samokhodnaya”) at the time.

The license documentation of the T-54A main battle tank was received in Poland in 1955.  The manufacturing was launched at the Gliwice-based armour facility in 1958 and lasted until 1964 when, after 3 thousand examples were made, the T-54 was replaced by a T-55 which is much more modern. T-54 and T-55 main battle tanks offered a major modernization potential which made it possible to develop their targeting and fire control systems or introduce better armour. T-54AM1 and T-54AM2 variants were created later on. 5 thousand examples of the T-55 tank were manufactured only in Poland, by the year 1981. Merida programme was the peak of development for this design. This was a Polish initiative launched in the mid-1980s.
License manufacturing of the BWP-1 (BMP-1) IFV was also an important episode of the HSW’s history. The facility got itself prepared to start production of this vehicle in the late 1960s. A new M16 complex was created at HSW for that purpose. The documentation was then taken over and adaptation and translation efforts began. At the very last moment, when more than 80 percent of the documentation was translated, the political decisions made outside of Poland led to cancellation of the BMP production agreement. “The new, very well equipped facility was filled with civil manufacturing by HSW, thanks to establishing of technological cooperation with British and, later, American companies.

When back in 1974, following the Yom Kippur war the international tensions grew, decisions were made to allow Poland to license manufacture the MT-LB (“Mnogotselevoy Tyagach – Lekhko Bronirovannyi”) artillery tractor. It turned out that the facility has no sufficient capacity to undertake the effort. Even though the product was technologically close to BMP, conditions had to be created to manufacture this platform. This forced HSW to create another large production facility from a scratch, later on referred to as the Facility No. 5 (Z-5) or “Non-catalogue Production Facility”.

S70 manufacturing implementation, as this was the name of the product, began in 1976. However, the production only reached its full speed after a new Z-5 facility was handed off. Ultimately 1100 examples of the S70 platform were to be manufactured at this plant per year. The plant was a complete, complex manufacturing facility equipped with western machinery and numerous special purpose stations designed and created to meet the requirements of this project, including track-tensioning systems, vehicle sealing test stations, sprinkler hall and vehicle sinking station. These stations had a significant meaning, since MT-LB was an amphibious platform. Getting to grips with this type of manufacturing, most of which was export driven, placed HSW among the manufacturers remaining capable to manufacture tracked amphibious armoured vehicles.

Stalowa Wola facility manufactured several thousand MT-LB platforms, even though the Polish People's Republic military was not initially interested in this vehicle. The primary task of the MT-LB platform was to tow the 100 mm T-12 anti-tank gun (what’s interesting: not introduced into use by the Polish People's Republic) or the 122 mm D-30 (S1) howitzer. The vehicle did not have heavy armour, it only offered protection from light guns and fragments and also featured sparse armament - a turret with a PKT 7.62 mm machine gun. It exhibited a good power-to-weight ratio which meant that it was quite manoeuvrable, both in the water, as well as on land. It was also fitted with a ventilation system protecting the crew from NBC weaponry effects. The vehicle also had a quite good chassis and offered modernization potential greater than the one we could have witnessed in case of the BMP-1 platform.

“Solidarność” and Gvozdika - the Decline of the Polish People's Republic

The 1980s constitute a key period in the Polish history, with the “Solidarity” social movement uprising against the communist government. HSW also played a relevant role here. Despite the special status the facility had, and despite being infiltrated by the Polish People's Republic secret service and active counter-intelligence and protection activities, HSW became a significant centre for oppositional activities. Support provided by the Church also played an important role here. The Catholic Church acted as an intermediary in receiving of the foreign assistance and organizing meetings with the leaders of the anti-communist opposition during the existence of the Polish People's Republic. This was the ground that was used to create one of the strongest branches of the NSZZ “Solidarność” social movement at this industrial complex, following the strikes of the 1980s and the Gdansk Social Accords. The movement was not broken by the repression imposed on it during the Polish “State of War”.

Another major wave of political strikes that emerged in Poland in 1988 also had some Stalowa Wola episodes. Even though the attempts to begin strikes at HSW (in April) and at the OBRMZiT facility failed, the major occupational strike that began on 22nd August became a breakthrough. The only postulate raised was to make “Solidarity” legal again.

During the strike that involved all of the HSW facilities (with a lot of military equipment gathered here, prepared for the foreign customers), the authorities inflicted numerous forms of pressure on the protesters. Shows of force were organized on the training ranges nearby, involving ZOMO (Motorized Reserves of the Citizens' Militia) and military units. Armed Mi-8 helicopters were making hovers and low passes over the locations where the protesters gathered themselves. Contrary to several strikes in Szczecin, where ZOMO was pacifying the strikes between 22nd and 26th August, no force was used in Stalowa Wola. The management decisively refused to accept a force-driven solution, expecting a bloodshed. The management also rejected a proposal that armed Security Service agents enter the HSW area.

First days of the strike at HSW, August 1988. The photo depicts gate 3 of the HSW facility taken over by the protesters, through which supporters of the strike got into the facility.  Image Credit: Jerzy Reszczyński
First days of the strike at HSW, August 1988. The photo depicts gate 3 of the HSW facility taken over by the protesters, through which supporters of the strike got into the facility. Image Credit: Jerzy Reszczyński

Following the protests, the authorities of the Polish People's Republic decided to start talks with the protesters. When on 31st August it was confirmed that authorities are willing to talk to opposition, following a meeting of Lech Wałęsa and General Czesław Kiszczak, the strike at HSW came to an end and the protesters left the area of the facility in an organized manner. The strike in question is often referred as the final nail in the coffin of the Polish People's Republic.

Coming back to production efforts undertaken at HSW, 2S1 Gvozdika amphibious self-propelled howitzer was the last of the license manufactured products at the facility. The production began in 1984. Gvozdikas manufactured in a quantity of several hundred examples are still being operated, following numerous upgrades (including implementation of the Topaz system), by the Polish military and will still be used until they are replaced by the modern Krab system.

Gvozdika howitzer is still being operated by the Polish military. Image Credit: Cpt. Tomasz Kisiel, Corporal Maciej Hering
Gvozdika howitzer is still being operated by the Polish military. Image Credit: Cpt. Tomasz Kisiel, Corporal Maciej Hering

As the time went passing by, the HSW engineers, using their knowledge of the MT-LB and of the derived 2S1 Gvozdika vehicles developed a number of derivatives, that took on a form of the Opal and LPG (Light Tracked Chassis) platforms currently used as the carrier of the command vehicles (WD and WDSz) embedded within the Regina/Krab solution.

Several prototypes using this chassis were created at HSW in the early 1990s. The work involved a number of Polish entities: Military Institute of Armament Technology (WITU), Military Institute of Technical Engineering (WITI), Military Institute of Armoured and Automotive Technology (WITPiS), Military University of Technology (WAT), Military Institute of Chemistry and Radiometry (WIChiR), Stalowa-Wola based Research and Development Centre for Land and Transport Machines (OBRMZiT), Gliwice based Research and Development Centre for Mechanical Appliances (OBRUM) and Tarnów-based Research and Development Centre for Mechanical Equipment (OBR SM).

Some of these systems were not mass manufactured (Krak, Turkus, Promet and Sopel self-propelled anti aircraft systems, BWO-40 armoured fighting vehicle with a 40 mm Bofors cannon, Lotos MEDEVAC platform, Irys command vehicle, Durian engineering carrier, Bor ammunition carrier). Meanwhile, some of the vehicles were accepted by the military, becoming a part of the Polish arsenal (TMN Kroton scattered minelaying system, Przebiśnieg SIGINT/ELINT/Jamming systems, Łowcza mobile air defence command station, Mors/Hors engineering reconnaissance carriers).

Developmental transformation period that began in 1989, once Poland regained its full sovereignty, has been a difficult time for Huta Stalowa Wola. Poland, similarly to other former Warsaw Pact countries struggling to overcome the economic problems resulting on the grounds of the Moscow-imposed order and ineffective economy, was cutting its defence expenditure drastically. This was also amplified by limitation imposed on export - the Polish manufacturers were no longer allowed to export their goods to the Middle East, and the construction equipment market was suffering from a crisis caused by the global investment crisis. The Polish Ministry of Defence was also frequently changing its procurement strategies which became yet another limiting factor here. All of the above made the HSW facility limit its production.

Since the early 1990s attempts were being made to launch production of new equipment, generation-wise. At the time, the political leadership, as well as the industry, were both aware of the fact that there is a need to equip the Polish military with modern armament complying with the NATO standards. Creating a modern NATO 155 mm artillery system was considered to be the primary task, to replace Dana and Gvozdika systems.

Initially some steps were taken to manufacture a new system with Slovakia. Ultimately, the British AS-90 system was selected for that purpose. Introduction of this solution was to ensure a qualitative leap in the Polish military, following the Gvozdika and Dana systems that were becoming obsolete rapidly. The new 52-calibre long barrel howitzer (barrel longer than in case of its prerequisite - the AS-90 system) was to have a range of 40 kilometres (twice the range of the Gvozdika platform) and it was to utilize a digital fire control system.

Turret license agreement has been signed in July 1999, shortly after Poland has become a part of NATO. As we know, the Krab system has reached its final form in 2014, after the Polish Ministry of Defence made a decision together with HSW and PGZ to acquire the K9 chassis manufacturing license from Korea. The fact that several years had to pass from the moment when the license agreement was signed, until Krab reached its final form, illustrates the convoluted development path taken by the Polish defence industry within that period.

The manufacturing orders placed in the 1990s were too insignificant to support the facility. The HSW became a company, and its structure had to be reconstructed. Then, in 2000, Centre for Military Manufacturing was established, not to impose the risk related to the civil production on the military programmes. Safe future for the 155 mm Krab sph programme was at stake here.

A complex restructuring process began then, in circumstances as such, with support and guarantees provided by the Government and the Industrial Development Agency. The process was to be taking place between 2003 and 2007 and needed to be accepted, as the facility was to receive significant state help, by the European Commission. The activities in question included launch of the Langusta programme in 2008, the goal of which was to carry out an in-depth modernization of the BM-21M rocket launchers. This provided the rocket artillery systems with new capabilities. They were also integrated with a new Topaz fire control system and a new Jelcz truck. This programme launched in 2008 made it possible to receive funding required to continue the development of military projects. It was also a protective measure for the restructuring process. Getting rid of the civil department was the final stage of the procedure which happened in the spring of 2012. This civil division was dealing with development, manufacturing and sales of construction equipment.

Intensive work was also carried out, in parallel to the Langusta programme, on a formula of a new artillery programme, not only including the Krab sph, but also encompassing the Regina Squadron Fire Module (2008) and 120 mm Rak self-propelled automatic mortar Company Fire Module. Rak mortar was being designed from a scratch at HSW since 2009.

Directly after the transformation related to restructuring was brought to a closure (with a Chinese investor acquiring the civil division) HSW S.A. made an investement in acquisition of the Jelcz-Komponenty company from the Jelczańskie Zakłady Samochodowe insolvency administrator. HSW S.A. modernized the company and further developed its production. A few years later this led to doubling of the Jelcz factory manufacturing capacity, and it made it possible for the company to join the modernization process related to the basic means of transport operated by the military. The company in question is currently in final stages of delivering the first lot of 910 Jelcz 442 vehicles, and another agreement concerning 500 examples for the Territorial Defence Forces has already been signed.

The Jelcz-based facility acquired by HSW in 2012 and modernized in the subsequent period now acts as the primary supplier of high mobility trucks for the Polish Armed Forces, operated as the basic transport equipment but also as a carrier for specialist equipment, including rocket launchers, communication systems and radars. Image Credit: Jerzy Reszczyński/archive.
The Jelcz-based facility acquired by HSW in 2012 and modernized in the subsequent period now acts as the primary supplier of high mobility trucks for the Polish Armed Forces, operated as the basic transport equipment but also as a carrier for specialist equipment, including rocket launchers, communication systems and radars. Image Credit: Jerzy Reszczyński/archive.

In March 2013 HSW also signed an agreement with the Armament Inspectorate concerning a remote control ZSSW-30 turret system, manufactured by a consortium formed by HSW (acting as the leader) and WB Electronics. The unmanned turret in question is to constitute a qualitative leap for the Polish motorized and mechanized units, by fusing the 30 mm Bushmaster II cannon with an option of adapting the 40 mm calibre and programmable rounds, modern hunter-killer fire control system and the ability to launch the Spike-LR ATGMs. Rosomak APC is probably going to become the first vehicle to be equipped with the ZSSW turrets. Series manufacturing of the aforesaid module, with an intention of fitting it onto the Rosomak vehicles, is to begin next year. However, the very same turret is also to be installed on the future Borsuk IFV manufactured at HSW.

Huta Stalowa Wola as a Part of the PGZ Group – Products of Strategic Importance

Participation of the HSW company in consolidation of the domestic defence industry around the PGZ Group was yet another key element of the restructuring process. HSW became a part of the PGZ Group in 2014, along with the former WPRP facility, which happened during stage I of consolidation. As we know, Polish Defence Holding companies were becoming a part of the Group within the scope of stage II. Consolidation within the framework of a single group was to reinforce the industrial potential and make it possible to achieve better coordination of the business activities undertaken by the individual companies.

During the year 2014 key decisions were made with regards to modernization programmes that were relevant for HSW. The first one: the Regina project rooted back in the 1990s; could be finalized thanks to those decisions. Borsuk IFV initiative stands a chance of becoming the first national heavy combat vehicle project started from a scratch in Poland. If successful, this programme would make it possible to entirely withdraw the obsolete Soviet-made equipment from the Polish military.

The 155 mm artillery programme faced some obstacles related to suspension of financing and problems with the chassis that was to be originally delivered by the Gliwice-based armour centre. Ultimately, in 2014, it was decided that HSW would start to license-manufacture the South Korean K9 platform that is used as a base for such self-propelled howitzer. It turned out that the decision has been right. The military has received the first of the Regina Squadron Fire Modules in 2017, on the basis of a previously signed contract. The module includes, alongside the howitzers, command vehicles and staff vehicles (11), ammunition carriers (6) and armament and electronics repair workshop.

After the Armed Forces received the first of the Regina modules, the Polish Army entered an era of modern NATO-compliant self propelled artillery. The howitzer, with an advanced fire control system derived from the Topaz solution, may act against targets at distances of up to 40 kilometres. It is capable of transitioning from movement to firing in 30 seconds. Krab may fire a burst of 3 rounds in 10 seconds and then leave the firing position in 30 seconds to avoid the enemy counter-battery fire. Efforts are also being made to integrate the Krab howitzer with precision-guided rounds.

Regina programme entered the series manufacturing phase in 2016, on the basis of a 4.6 billion zlotys contract signed in December that year. On the grounds of that contract the Polish military would receive another four squadron fire modules. The elements of the first one would be delivered by the end of this year. During the stage two, a full transfer of technology is expected to happen with regards to the K9 chassis. The Agreement that allows for this to happen has been signed by the management of the HSW and Hanwha Techwin companies, in the presence of MoD and PGZ representatives. This happened in October 2017, during the ADEX 2017 event in Seoul. According to the assumptions made in 2019 the K9 chassis could be used with other applications in mind, also for the sake of being exported. A broad transfer of tracked chassis technologies also entails competencies that could be used by HSW in other programmes, including the one pertaining to the Borsuk IFV.

The “Borsuk” project is being co-financed within the framework of funding provided by the National Centre for Research and Development. HSW S.A. concluded an agreement with the Centre on 24th October 2014, acting as the consortium leader. The agreement assumes that an entirely new vehicle would be developed, with an intention to replace the obsolete Soviet BMP-1 platforms. The vehicle is going to offer amphibious capabilities. The basic variant weighs around 25 tonnes. However, the engineers at HSW assume that there’s a major weight reserve that would allow for integration of extra armour and equipment (BMS, active protection, etc.). The individual components of the Borsuk platform will be delivered by the Polish companies. The above concerns the ZSSW-30 turret and a power-pack supplied by the Poznan-based WZM facility, among other elements. The work on the vehicle proceeds at an increasingly rapid pace. During the last year’s edition of the MSPO exhibition in Kielce a model/preprototype of the Borsuk platform was showcased. The vehicle is undergoing intensive testing and there is a chance that series manufacturing would begin in 2021-2022. If all goes well HSW will have an opportunity to manufacture more than 1000 Borsuk platforms, including the primary IFV as well as reconnaissance variants and self-propelled mortar platforms. This would translate into stability for HSW - even for several years to come.

Another programme that reached the implementation stage in 2016 is related to the process in which mechanized/motorized battalions are equipped. In April 2016 a 1 billion zlotys worth contract was signed, concerning the delivery of the company-level fire modules of the Rak self-propelled mortar based on the Rosomak APC platform. The above concerns 64 mortars and 32 command vehicles. 120 mm Rak mortar is the first system of this class in the Polish military. It utilizes an advanced fire control system. The mortar is ultimately to be able to attack targets at a maximum range exceeding 10 kilometers. The platform may attain readiness rapidly, and quickly vacate the firing position after it accomplishes the assigned task.

The military has already received three company-level fire modules with the fourth one expected to be supplied by the end of the year. In the late 2017 armament recovery vehicles have also been ordered. Ammunition carrier and reconnaissance platform contracts are yet to be finalized.

HSW has also developed a tracked M120G variant of the Rak mortar based on the LPG platform. It has passed the qualification test programme. However, currently the Ordering Party and the manufacturer are focused on introducing the wheeled platform mortars into use. It cannot be ruled out that, similarly as it happened in case of Rosomak, the mortar would be unified with the new primary battalion-level tracked platform - the Borsuk IFV.

Wisła system is yet another strategically important programme in which HSW S.A.’s involvement is expected. Within the framework of this initiative the Polish Armed Forces would receive an integrated air/missile defence solution. The aforesaid initiative is already being implemented, as intergovernmental agreements have been already signed by and between Poland and the United States of America. HSW S.A. is going to deliver some elements of the missile launchers and vehicles carrying the individual systems of the Wisła solution. The company is also going to deal with manufacturing of specialized containers for command and fire control stations or communication systems and so on. This portion of manufacturing is to be carried out by the AUTOSAN company (acquired by HSW and PIT-RADWAR) in March 2016. For the AUTOSAN company, buses manufactured for the civil customer constitute the main source of income, along with electromagnetically sealed containers dedicated for the military. HSW was also to play a key role in the Homar rocket artillery programme, the goal of which is to develop and implement a rocket artillery system with a range of up to 300 kilometres, in collaboration with a foreign partner. HSW S.A. was initially acting as the consortium leader in the procedure that has been going on since 2015. Once this role was taken over by PGZ, the Stalowa Wola facility was to be responsible for coordinating the effort and managing the supplies. The MoD announced it in July that the programme formula is going to change. The previous procedure has been brought to a closure and negotiation have begun with the Americans to acquire the HIMARS system via the FMS process. The Ministry told us that a number of acquisition variants is being analyzed, with regards to long range strike capabilities, hence it cannot be said that final decisions have been made.

Baobab-K vehicle presented during the MSPO 2016 Defence Exhibition. Image Credit:
Baobab-K vehicle presented during the MSPO 2016 Defence Exhibition. Image Credit:

HSW is also developing other products that could possibly become a part of the arsenal remaining at disposal of the Polish military. Baobab-K scattered minelaying system based on the Kroton solution is one of those products. Kroton systems, in a small quantity, are operated by the Polish forces.The vehicle is based on a platform delivered by Jelcz and it has been fitted with six MN-123 scattered minelaying modules. It shall be recalled that solutions as such are considered to be especially useful in defensive setting and in operations targeted against armoured and mechanized units as they allow for blocking a large area with the use of the anti-tank mines. At the moment the Armament Inspectorate is carrying out a procedure involving a consortium formed by HSW (leader), Jelcz Sp. z o.o., BELMA S.A. company from Bydgoszcz and the Military Institute of Technical Engineering. Langusta 2 rocket launcher is another important product, derived from the system used by the Polish Armed Forces. Launcher as such may be created through modernization of the BM-21, RM-70 and WR-40 systems. They are based on a larger 8x8 platform delivered by Jelcz, and they have new armament control and rocket launch systems at their disposal, along with an autoloader unit that allows the crew to launch two salvos of 122 mm rockets. The system in question is only a proposal now. HSW is also working on the wheeled Kryl self-propelled howitzer based on the specially designed Jelcz 663 platform. This system has already passed a number of tests. It is destined to become a part of the brigades operating the wheeled APCs and division-level artillery regiments. Similarly to the Krab solution it uses a 52-calibre long barrel and it may attack targets at distances of up to 40 kilometres. The Kryl system also utilizes an advanced fire control system. Kryl’s design makes it cheaper to manufacture than Krab. It is act as a direct replacement of the Czechoslovakian Dana howitzers that are currently operated by the Polish artillery units. The decision to order or not to order the Kryl system is yet to be made by the Polish Ministry of Defence.

...and investment

The restructuring of the HSW S.A. is often referred to as a return to the roots and heritage of the Central Industrial District. HSW S.A., thanks to the orders placed by the Polish Ministry of Defence, dynamically expands its production capacity which requires proper investment. Modernization programmes that expand the company’s technical and technological potential became further steps in the development of the facility, and these are viewed as long term initiatives. The above effort includes modernization of the barrel manufacturing department (provision of a capacity to manufacture barrels within calibre range between 30 and 155 mm and length of more than 8 metres), expansion of the design, technology and research facilities, and establishment of a new manufacturing complex that is to focus on the most complex welding processes.

The objective of this investment is to establish the whole manufacturing cycle of the Krab howitzer chassis hulls (based on the K9 design) and of newly planned future products. HSW acquired the chassis license back in December 2015. The platform may also be used in other systems. Now the company is intensely working on initiation of chassis production. The effort above is preceded with assembling the chassis delivered by the licensor in a form of parts.
The new robotic welding line is also going to be used to manufacture the ZSSW-30 unmanned turrets. The new welding facility is to be used to series manufacture the Borsuk IFV as well.
The investments concerning the welding production line and the barrel manufacturing facility play a relevant role within the scope of implementing the programmes planned by the HSW company, concerning the IFV, its armament (ZSSW-30) and the Regina/Krab system. They may also be potentially used in many other areas. Here we may refer to a new anti-aircraft system for the mobile units of the land component that could potentially be based on 35 mm cannons. Undoubtedly, the Armed Forces need a system as such. Not only would a solution as such be useful in acting against aircraft or drones, it could also be utilized to act against artillery, rocket and mortar munitions (C-RAM capability). Analytical effort within that scope is currently being undertaken by the army.

The Future

At the moment HSW employs around 760 employees, while the HSW Capital Group employs 1407 persons in total. The group includes HSW S.A. and fully consolidated HSW - Wodociągi Sp. z o.o. and Jelcz Sp. z. o.o. companies. The financial result achieved by the company in 2017 was much better than the one expected 2 to 3 years ago. The group’s sales income figure is equal to PLN 858 million, while operational profit item recorded is PLN 46.47 million. Sales amount planned to be achieved in 2018 is to exceed PLN 1 billion.

It may be easily said that after 8 stormy decades HSW became a key facility for the Polish military modernization, with a particularly important role played with regards to the rocket and artillery component and mechanized and motorized units. If HSW succeeds in implementing its ambitious plans, the facility is going to create armament systems that would replace the obsolete post-Soviet assets in the mechanized and artillery elements of the Polish military.

Jerzy Reszczyński

  • HSW