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Armed Forces

Lasers for Counter-UAS, Polish-British Missiles and Much More. How will the Polish IAMD Look Like? [INTERVIEW]

Photo. Platoon Leader Aleksander Perz / 18th Mechanized Division/Facebook

The second phase of the Wisła programme that is also expected to be fused with Narew, in many regards, would see a much greater level of contributions made by the Polish industry, stressed Brig. General Michał Marciniak. The Deputy Head at the Armament Agency also spoke about the new Polish-British Futurer Common Missile, the future of the Piorun missile, the plans made for the NATO Summit in Washington regarding the air defence, and the Polish-made KINMA Counter-UAS solution.

Jędrzej Graf: The Wisła programme is one of the most important components of the Polish air defence system, and taking its two phases into account, it is also the most significant one, value-wise. Yesterday, an FMS agreement was signed for this system, and it had been preceded recently by an offset deal. What the finalization of the battle command system memorandum means, for the process of establishing the Polish IAMD system?

Brig. General Michał Marciniak, Ph.D. Eng., Deputy Head of the Armament Agency, Plenipotentiary at the Polish Ministry of Defence for Building the IAMD System: First I would like to stress that this is the last of the large contracts signed with the US Government, pertaining to the acquisition of equipment for the Phase II of the Wisła programme. Let me recall the fact, that during MSPO 2023 we signed agreements regarding the M903 launchers, PAC-3 MSE missiles, and LTAMDS radars. Of course, there are still FMS agreements to be signed, regarding training or cryptography, but the scale of those deals would be significantly smaller, as it happened during phase one.

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What would be different, during the second phase of the programme, as opposed to the first one?

Following the conclusion of the largest intergovernmental contracts with the US we would begin contracting regarding the Wisła system elements procured from the Polish industry. The total value of those elements may be as high, as several billion zlotys. The second phase of the Wisła programme which is also expected to be fused with Narew, in many regards, would see a much greater level of contributions made by the Polish industry. It will also bring much more benefit for the domestic entities when it comes to their share in value, and the proportional share between the procurement involving the US government, and the domestic industry.

For instance, during the first phase of the MRAD programme, we were procuring the US-made IFCN Relay nodes. Meanwhile, during phase II we will be procuring Polish MCC systems, developed jointly by WZŁ1 and Transbit. Similarly, as it happened during Phase I, the Polish industry, including HSW S.A., Jelcz, and WZU Grudziądz, will receive orders for all vehicular platforms, which is standard for our programmes, along with loader/transport vehicles.

Noteworthy, during the implementation of Wisła Phase I offset deals, the Polish industry obtained certain manufacturing competencies that will also be used during Phase II deliveries. Launchers may be a good example here. The manufacturing of those would happen as a result of an order placed by a US-based company at HSW.

During the second phase of the Wisła programme, Polish-made radars like Sajna, Bystra, P-18PL, and PET/PCL, would be included in the IADS - they would be manufactured by the domestic industry. They will be integrated with the IBCS air defence management system. A certain portion of domestic integration, conducted in a myriad of manners, will be handled by the Polish OBR CTM company. We also procure the E-OPS, F-OPS, and C-OPS command centres from the Polish industry. We will not be acquiring standardized, US-made solutions, as it happened during phase I.

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Some of the elements that you have mentioned were also ordered for Phase I of the Wisła programme, but deliveries are just planned to happen. How would the integration progress, and when readiness would be obtained by the system as a whole?

Some elements, such as the command cabins, and MCC nodes, have been procured in an IBCS-ready configuration during phase I. This means that they are ready for the elements of IBCS to be installed - such as the computers - but for now, these elements have not yet been implemented. Following the delivery of command centres and communication nodes, elements of the IBCS system in the standard US systems (such as S-280) would be transferred.

Prototype communication nodes and command cabins would undergo a test programme between 2024 and 2025. If the test programme is successful, procurement of series-manufactured systems will follow. Let me add that deliveries of the baseline set of equipment procured from the US government, for Phase I of the Wisła programme, have been completed, in practical terms. One Fire Unit, configured in a manner allowing it to counter ballistic missiles, is already on duty in Bemowo, Warsaw. We expect the second Wisła battery to be at Initial Operational Capability in the second half of this year, in a configuration that would be IBCS-integrated.

And when deliveries of equipment for phase II are planned?

We foresee that deliveries of equipment for the second stage of the MRAD programme will begin between 2026 and 2027. LTAMDS multi-function fire control radars that we procured in the US last year are the determining factor here. Let me recall, that we procured 12 radars in total. We will be acquiring these together with the US Army, during the first stage of series manufacturing. It is assumed that deliveries will be finalized by the year 2029.

Photo. Raytheon Technologies

Is procurement of a different missile with extended range for the Wisła system considered (like PAC-2 GEM-T, or SkyCeptor)?

We envisage neither SkyCeptor nor PAC-2 GEM-T would be procured for combat use, as the latter does not grant us net-centric capability. Within the framework of works on the Integrated Air/Missile Defence system, we have defined a family of missiles that meet all requirements of the Polish Armed Forces. And so, in the Pilica+ system, we would be using Piorun and CAMM missiles, CAMM-ER in Narew, along with the Future Common Missile, and Future Common Missile and PAC-3 MSE in the Wisła system. Hence, there is no necessity to procure extra missiles designed strictly for Patriot. Nonetheless, due to the limitations related to the possible training launches of the PAC-3 MSE missiles (these can only happen within the US territory), we are analyzing an option of procuring a couple of GEM-T missiles, for training only.

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How does the Armament Agency perceive the matter of training, for Wisła, Narew, and Pilica, within the context of challenges entailed by the commissioning of large quantities of equipment in the Polish Armed Forces, and considering the general personnel situation in the military?

We are making use of the experience gathered during the training conducted for the first Wisła, Pilica, and Little Narew batteries, and we are treating this challenge very seriously. Since October 2023 we have been organizing a workshop named „Personnel Training Concept for the Prospective Air/Missile Defence System”, involving the Military University of Technology, Air Force Academy, Land Forces Academy, War Studies University, and Air Force Training Center in Koszalin. We want to build an entirely new training model. We will be providing air defence systems simulators and laboratories for the academic bodies. Furthermore, one Narew system and one Pilica+ battery would be received by CSSP Koszalin, to conduct practical training.

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The programme has a complex profile, and financing has already been taken into account, within the framework of individual programmes. For instance, the Pilica+ performance agreement assumes that one of the 22 procured batteries would be handed off for training purposes.

The Narew system delivery schedule, when it comes to the objective configuration, assumes those deliveries would be finalized between 2027 and 2035. Why is it so spread across a longer timeline? Is there a chance for it to be accelerated?

Not only does the Narew Programme involve procurement, but also the establishment of the domestic industrial potential, we need to remember that. We are also procuring launchers and missiles that would be license-manufactured, at Polish facilities. The manufacturing capabilities of the foreign partners, as well as the technology absorption potential, both condition the specific timeline for deliveries, as described by the performance contract.

Let me add that accelerated delivery deadlines for the Pilica+ programme stem from the fact that the launchers and missiles are being procured directly from the British partner. Between 2024 and 2025 we will be working on the integration of the existing Pilica system, with the modified, and partially entirely new fire control system, along with SHORAD elements, such as the Bystra radar, or CAMM launchers. Meanwhile, the experience gathered during the Pilica+ programme will be useful for us in the Narew system programme.

You have mentioned the FCM missile, which had been known as CAMM-MR - expected to fill in the gaps in systems such as Narew and Wisła. What is the action plan regarding that matter, what role would be played by that missile, in the air defence system?

Let me start with the fact that we decided to have a broad transfer of technologies be a part of the Narew programme, to make it possible for us to participate in the development of future missiles, Future Common Missile (FCM) in particular - expected to be developed together with the British. Details have been covered by a relevant intergovernmental memorandum.

We expect the FCM to be commissioned by both the British and the Polish Armed Forces. For Poland that missile is especially relevant. Apart from being a complement to the Wisła and Narew systems (as a less costly, compared to PAC-3 MSE, missile, with a range exceeding the Narew system’s CAMM-ER), the FCM will also be used as armament on the Polish Miecznik frigates. FCM would hence relevantly bolster the Polish air/missile defence system, in both naval, as well as land domains.

Miecznik programme frigate - artist’s vision. Not only would these warships be armed with CAMM-ER, but also the FCM missiles.
Photo. PGZ

And what about the SONA air defence system for the mobile land units?

Talks regarding that issue are currently in progress. Some of the previously adopted assumptions are redefined, also due to the lessons learned during the Ukrainian conflict. We need to remember that the SONA system would have a very specific role assigned. It is going to be used as CIWS for land units, in a situation when they are also protected by Wisła and Narew. Thus, we cannot overcomplicate its configuration.

Piorun MANPADS is also directly tied to the close-in protection of land units. The industry is proposing that it is modified, also through range extension. Are development efforts planned, within that scope?

So far, there is no procurement programme pursued, regarding the replacement of Piorun in the Polish Armed Forces, thus no development study has been ordered, that would be tied to budget financing. We are interested in further development of Piorun, as MANPADS.

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Considering the fact that the said system is being actively used in an armed conflict, it could have been captured by the adversary. The key direction would involve modification or change of the guidance algorithms, and the seeker unit itself. The Piorun’s replacement shall be developed with an emphasis placed on the ability to identify targets, instead of focusing on extended range, should the latter be achieved at a cost of the weapon being shoulder-launchable, as a MANPADS, also capable of countering larger UAS platforms. CAMM missiles are a part of the IADS - these cover the ranges of several kilometres, and they also utilize advanced RF seeker which makes them highly lethal in a plethora of conditions.

What is the role the Armament Agency sees for the Piorun system and its potential developmental variants? Are further orders planned, following the current procurement agreement? To what extent can Piorun be employed by light, scattered units, such as the Territorial Defence Forces elements? Should integration of the missile on further platforms, rotary-wing assets included, be seen as one of the development paths, along the seeker upgrade?

The Piorun MANPADS have proven their worth as a portable system, also in combat. The Polish Armed Forces certainly need capabilities as such, both as a shoulder-launched system, but also as an element of air defence systems such as the aforesaid Pilica+, or the Poprad system operated by the Army.

We plan further orders to be placed, to fully equip all of the newly formed Polish Army units, expected to stock MANPADS in their inventories. Hence, we have enough space to modernize Piorun, and its guidance system in particular, so that it keeps being a lethal system over the upcoming years.

Let me recall the fact that it is the user, not the Armament Agency, that decides on the purpose and how the procured equipment is employed. I can, however, say that Piorun MANPADS will be delivered for the Territorial Defence Forces in the long run. When it comes to integration on rotary-wing aircraft, this is a prospective direction. As the Armament Agency, we are supervising the LZR Piorun project pursued by the National Centre For Research and Development. We expect that the said undertaking would result in the birth of a solution that would grant air-to-air capability to multi-role helicopters in a few years. A scenario in which the Piorun MANPADS is integrated onto other platforms in the future also cannot be ruled out here. For now, I would not like to make any conclusive statements on the fate of the new Piorun variants.

Let us move to international matters. The air/missile defence is to be one of the key topics discussed during the NATO summit in Washington. What the key Polish postulates are going to be?

I can confirm that broadly understood air defence, including ground-based air/missile defence, will be one of the key topics during the NATO summit. We are preparing ourselves for that, as the Polish Armed Forces. Before we move on to discussing the specific postulates, it is worth discussing the terms and definitions used here, as some matters, in my view, are not defined precisely enough, even in the NATO documents.

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The first matter that is not definitively determined, or followed, is related to names when it comes to the ranges of the systems. For instance, we refer to „Little Narew” as SHORAD, whereas the British refer to the Sky Sabre system, with the identical CAMM missile, as medium range, MRAD system. In Poland MRAD is the term assigned to the Patriot system, Wisła, speaking more broadly. If we are to define common capabilities, across the NATO force model, with relevant declarations being made, we need to use the same language.

We need to create a clearly defined division of ranges and engagement zones. Not only should this be done missile/effector-range-wise, but also within the scope of the capability to lethally neutralize manoeuvring targets at the given distance. If we do not do that, it may turn out that when speaking of the short-range system that would become a part of NATO IADS, one group of states would mean a system close in performance to Narew, and another group may mean a portable system like Poprad or Piorun, and some nations may mean AAA systems here. And these elements are incomparable. In the past, NATO adopted a definition of a battalion as a battle module, an element that has certain capabilities, munitions stockpile at hand, and that meets several universal requirements. I am under the impression that we need a similar solution within the scope of air/missile defence systems. And solution as such is non-existent for now.

Jednostka ogniowa (wyrzutnia) przeciwlotniczego systemu rakietowego Mała Narew.
Little Narew fire unit (launcher). Fire unit of the Little Narew SAM system, based on the Jelcz 882 platform, launching the MBDA CAMM missile, using the iLauncher system in Ustka.
Photo. plut. Aleksander Perz / 18 Dywizja Zmechanizowana

Are there other areas in which similar clarification is needed?

If we plan to undertake joint activities within the NATO defence system, along with a declaration of national capabilities, we also need to clearly define what Integrated Air/Missile Defence means. Even though the term „Integrated Air and Missile Defence System” is used by everyone, the interpretation does vary. There is a major difference between interoperability and integration, no clear definitions of those areas exist for air defences, in the NATO documents.

For us, an integrated defence system is the one that we are establishing through the Wisła and Narew programmes. We can use the Narew effector to engage a target, with data provided by a sensor embedded within the Wisła system. If we are speaking of Patriot and Sky Sabre systems subordinated to the Polish Operational Command, these remain interoperational, as they can be operated within a single element and provide data to a single supervising party who assigns tasks to them, but they are not integrated, as we cannot launch Patriot missiles against targets detected by the CAMM system’s Giraffe radar. It is worth clearly defining those terms, as we need to know whether we want to build an integrated, or an interoperational system. We cannot find ourselves in a situation in which declarations are made, at the NATO summit, on the establishment of an integrated air defence system, without clearly outlining those terms.

One also needs to be aware that there are no technical possibilities of fully integrating all air defence systems, across NATO as a whole, or the whole of Europe. There is also no possibility to provide a Europe-wide air defence coverage. We can, and we should consider the establishment of a regional air defence systems coalition, assuming these systems would be integrated within a single command system working fully together, and then have interoperability established with the remaining regions. One coalition as such could function in North-Eastern Europe, involving Finland, Sweden, Baltic States, and Poland, another one - in the South of Europe, and another one in Western Europe. These systems would be fully integrated (at the coalition level), and interoperational within the framework of the whole NATO system. This solution is achievable at the current stage of technology development, taking into account the data transfer capabilities.

What does the above mean, in practical terms?

We need to be headed towards a situation in which we would obtain the capability to recognize all threats. If multiple, not-integrated systems functioned in our region, it could potentially turn out that they recognize multiple, different targets. And this is what we shall avoid, as all air defence systems deployed on the Eastern flank should have access to a unified air picture. This does not mean, for instance, that systems deployed to Spain should have access to the very same, detailed picture, as the creation of that picture, and data transfer, would be very challenging, technically, even with some of the more advanced systems involved.

The War in Ukraine has shown us that unmanned systems are becoming an increasingly more important threat. What is the status of the introduction of counter-UAS systems in the Polish Armed Forces? Can we get involved in NATO initiatives in that area?

Counter-UAS solutions are one of the priorities for the Armament Agency. And we are going to develop them, also within the framework of EU-driven initiatives, working hand-in-hand with the NATO allies. We are going to make clear statements regarding that matter, during the summit in Washington.

EDIRPA instrument has been recently put into place in the EU, allowing for financing common arms procurement for member states. Within the framework of the EDIRPA programme that assumes that the establishment of capabilities among the member states would be subsidized, we want to propose the KINMA system - KInetic and Non-kinetic Module Anti-drone. It is an open-architecture counter-UAS solution that is being developed for Pilica+. The system in question would utilize different sensors and effectors, including jammers, programmable munitions, cannons, missiles, and also other, optional elements. The system will be used to comprehensively counter UAVs, in a kinetic, and non-kinetic manner. We are also going to use our own „fighter” UAV system in a counter-UAS role, capable of engaging the enemy systems with proper missiles. This would make it possible to seriously extend the range of the counter-UAS system.

What is very relevant is the fact that although the KINMA system is being built within the framework of the Pilica+ solution, it can also be detached from it and work autonomously. Systems as such can be procured on their own, so even if we procure 22 Pilica+ solutions, we can get multiple KINMAs. We have shared information on that system with the allies, via NATO, and also the Polish network of defence attaches. The Czech Republic expressed a preliminary interest. If other allies get involved, by the time of the summit in Washington, we will place a financing request within the framework of the EDIRPA programme. Let me recall, that joint acquisition of capabilities by 3 EU member states is the baseline requirement here. Of course, if we don’t succeed in obtaining the external financing, we will still be pursuing the development of this system, using our means.

Initiatives as such are very much necessary. During the recent months in Ukraine, it has been shown that the saturation of the battlefield with unmanned assets is growing strong quickly - if we include the smallest systems, we are speaking of dozens of thousands of systems. What is the experience of the Polish Armed Forces, and the plans made, when it comes to broadly countering different UAVs?

The Polish Armed Forces operate the SkyCtrl non-kinetic system that can detect UAVs and conduct jamming. We have a certain experience in using that system on the Polish-Belorussian border, but it is not designed for countering UAVs kinetically, or physically. The APS company, the SkyCtrl system manufacturer, working hand-in-hand with MSI Defence Systems from the UK, have jointly developed a counter-UAS system including APS sensors and jamming systems, coupled with the 30 mm Bushmaster II cannon and ABM programmable munitions.

We also need to remember that the UAVs differ very much. The smallest systems, with the smallest range, adapted from civilian solutions, are very challenging to counter with kinetic solutions. Jamming, and directed energy should be used to counter these, where possible.

Loading operation: paletized SKYctrl SKID system.
Photo. APS

What is the status of progress, when it comes to the directed energy systems in the Polish Armed Forces?

We have engaged in advanced talks with several foreign partners. We already know what capabilities should, and can be realistically obtained by systems that we are willing to acquire. The KINMA system will offer an expansion option, with directed energy systems. First, we would be dealing with a laser system - as systems as such remain lethal when employed against UAVs. Work on solutions as such is at a fairly advanced stage, and the level of their technological readiness is somewhat high, even though there are still some challenges ahead, tied to battlefield reliability of the effectors, humidity and dirt resistance, and so on.

Another stage of development of the KINMA system should involve the inclusion of microwave beam (HPM) systems. Works within that scope are underway in different states. Systems as such should attain technological maturity in the future. The implementation of such technologies will allow for a major increase in the KINMA system’s potential.

Let me add that our analytical effort for the KINMA system has already been accomplished, in practical terms. When EDIRPA funds emerged, we invited the allies to take part, also asking them for remarks. We will be working on that project at a rapid pace. We assume that the whole battery module would consist of radar sensors, passive sensors, and artillery effectors, arranged on trucks in an integrated manner, along with separate, lighter systems with missile launchers, based on ATVs. We see a high demand for similar solutions in the NATO states, and we hope that we will be able to meet that demand, not just for the Polish Armed Forces, but also for the allies, with the involvement of the EU funds as well. This is a very beneficial area, when it comes to international cooperation, with a huge potential for development.

And what about protecting the individual soldiers, and elements, or integrating the counter-UAS systems with main battle tanks, fighting vehicles, and other platforms?

Air defence systems like KINMA are by design used to protect infrastructure and military units. When it comes to the Pilica+ systems, which would include KINMA as an element, their job would be to protect the Wisła MRAD assets and airbases. Depending on the needs, KINMA may also be deployed to protect other elements, including force assembly areas.

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When it comes to systems designed for individual fighting vehicles, or soldiers, these are designed primarily for self-defence and are based on jammers. Vehicles, such as infantry fighting vehicles, or main battle tanks also have certain system integration limitations, even though it is possible to enhance the protection levels they offer, against newly emerging threats.

Thank you for this conversation.

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