Polish Industry Supporting the Naval Missile Unit [Interview]

Photo: M. Dura
Photo: M. Dura

WZE S.A. facility was indicated as the company which would have a task assigned to create a maintenance centre for my equipment, as the beneficiary of the offset agreement. (…) Had it not been for the maintenance agreement with the Military Electronic Works, we would be forced to send the equipment (including the missiles) for periodic inspections to Norway, or invite the Norwegian experts to Poland, states Captain (Navy) Artur Kołaczyński, commander of the MJR (Naval Missile Unit) element. Within the interview, Kołaczyński also mentions the plans to develop the MJR element, as well as the concept pertaining to operational use of the missile system.

Maksymilian Dura: Military Electronic Works S.A. (WZE) is the facility that signed an agreement with the Support Inspectorate of the Polish Armed Forces, concerning a comprehensive maintenance scheme for the missile squadrons of the Naval Missile Unit (MJR). Will conclusion of the said contract change the operational activities of the element in question?

Captain Artur Kałaczyński, MJR Commander: It will, to a great extent. Above all, we will not have to worry about foreign supplies, customs, and so on. Had it not been for the maintenance agreement with the Military Electronic Works, we would be forced to send the equipment (including the missiles) for periodic inspections to Norway, or invite the Norwegian experts to Poland.

Transportation, when it comes to the missiles themselves, needs to comply with the international ADR treaty regulating the shipping of dangerous goods. Even in Poland, operations as such are a complex process, and in case of foreign shipping we’re dealing with initiatives that are complicated and costly. One may find easier ways and transport [the missiles], utilizing a Navy vessel for instance. However, considering the distance, this would be difficult to organize, costly and time-consuming.

Luckily, at the stage when the Agreement with Kongsberg was being concluded, when the first of the Coastal Missile Squadrons was acquired, the WZE S.A. facility was indicated as the company which would have a task assigned to create a maintenance centre for my equipment, as the beneficiary of the offset agreement. This will make our work easier, as in case of transporting the equipment and missiles solely to the WZE S.A. facility in Zielonka we may use wheeled means of transport, solely within the territory of Poland. And here we have accumulated a lot of experience.

The missiles are stored in containers. Why are servicing and maintenance, and transportation, required?

Recertification after a decade of container warehouse storage is the primary issue here. But the missiles also undergo periodic checks before ten years pass. We are able to carry out all of the manual-defined maintenance ourselves. However, in case of the maintenance procedures requiring the missile being removed from the container, the unit will not handle these [procedures] on its own. Luckily operations as such are rare – most often they are required once every ten years, or in case of faults detected through diagnostics. We plug the missile, in fact, we plug the whole container into a diagnostics suite, and should any faults be detected then, then the module inspected would need to be transferred to the maintainer, for further diagnostics and repairs.

Image Credit: M. Dura
Image Credit: M. Dura

How many cases of faulty NSM missiles have occurred since the acquisition?

Even if cases as such emerged, they were being rectified immediately. Up until now we did not face a problem requiring the missile to be sent to Norway for repairs. NSM missiles are highly reliable, exhibiting a high level of technical availability.

To what degree would the agreement by and between the Support Inspectorate and the WZE S.A. facility change the NSM maintenance processes? Were new discriminate procedures of any sort developed, for instance related to shipping? 

The maintenance agreement does not require the unit to carry out any new actions or complementary procedures. Contrary to what it may seem, it is not difficult for us to ship a missile using a truck, we have some considerable experience within that regard. A requirement to transport the missiles is signalled in advance, and then we utilize the readily available procedures related to transportation of dangerous cargo. Meanwhile, the remaining equipment may be moved in line with the generally applicable rules.

Beyond the agreement signed with WZE S.A., what are the unit’s expectations with regards to cooperation with the industry? Are there any extra elements that could offer support for the system operated by MJR?

At the moment no areas as such exist, especially in the field of combat support. Of course, one should remember that the maintenance agreement signed by and between the Inspectorate and the WZE S.A. facility concerns the equipment that has been already delivered, the so called first squadron which exhibits operational readiness already. No agreement as such has been signed with regards to the “Second” squadron, as the equipment there is still covered by a guarantee.

Then it will become a part of the WZE S.A.’s maintenance chain?

Then it will be a subject to maintenance, and we will be forced to select the maintainer. However, selection lies beyond the scope of my responsibility.

What way is utilized to introduce the equipment for the second squadron?

The equipment for the second squadron has been handed-off physically, for use in the unit. Currently we’re still carrying out the final tests within the scope of its reliability and compliance. Tests as such were being carried out in late January. Here we’re referring to all of the elements of the system, the whole unit – thus in essence we’re meaning an integration of both squadrons.

Image Credit: M. Dura
Image Credit: M. Dura

Are there any differences between the “first” and the “second” squadron? Any amendments or changes?

Quantity-, quality-, and equipment-wise they are identical. The conclusions and experience gathered as a result of operation of the “first” squadron have brought in some changes, however they are irrelevant when it comes to composition and combat use of the system.

These were small changes made to vehicle design, but not with regards to the chassis, but to the containers, making the maintenance easier. The main assumption of the agreement was to make both squadrons practically identical.

Software bears a great degree of relevance for the NDR (Coastal Missile Squadron) system. In what way is it updated, also after the guarantee expires?

The software is being updated by the contractor. WZE S.A. deals with this procedure, working together with the representatives of the Kongsberg company, when patches are released. This is a natural process, as we’re dealing with a system that is new here. Considering the above, a lot of the aforesaid enhancements is introduced to implement the system here, in the Polish military.

However, we are also working with the Royal Norwegian Navy. They utilize an analogous system, but installed on the naval platforms – the vessels. We are exchanging the experiences, e.g. through joint fire exercises, such as the event organized in 2016, with more firing exercises being planned in the future. We’re also involved in regular meetings, as a part of the NSM user forum. There, exchange of experience takes place too. If a necessity emerges (on the basis of experience and requests submitted by the users), then adjustments are made following an analysis. Then they are implemented as an “upgrade” package for the whole software suite.

And this is done on the basis of the existing agreement?

All adjustments and enhancements are taking place within the framework of the existing agreement.

Guarantee coverage for the “first” squadron has already expired. Considering this, are the enhancements of software associated with an extra cost?

No. The Agreement concerning the 2nd squadron assumes that the whole unit is going to have its equipment brought to full integration and compatibility, hence all of the updates and patches are implemented in both squadrons, within the framework of the military equipment supplies agreement.

However, the upgrades as such will probably be introduced as a part of a maintenance agreement in the future, e.g. by WZE S.A.

The last missile firing took place back in 2016, in Norway. Is any form of verification planned to take place in Poland, for instance in Ustka?

Locally we are not able to secure missile launches at ranges so long, for safety reasons.

I remember the times when we were firing the “grandmas” [Russian P-15, P-21 and P-22 missiles utilized in case of Project 205 and Project 1241 vessels - editor's note] from the “205s” or “Small Missile Vessels”. The difference, besides the modern profile of the new missile, stemmed from the fact that in case of the former missile one had to drain fuel for safety reasons, allowing for an immediate launch only at ranges of around 20 kilometres.

In case of NSM, we cannot remove the fuel. And what if we lose control of the missile? And thus we are not planning to carry out launch-training in our region.

Safety is one of the challenges. Technical aspect is another issue. We are in possession of a modern, fresh, a somewhat untested system – one should remember that our first missiles have been launched just recently, in Norway. We are continuously gathering data and thus we are not utilizing a simple principle of just hitting the target during the launch.

Along the way, numerous factors are also a subject to detailed scrutiny: what is the missile’s behaviour at the individual stages of the flight, what is the way in which guidance selects the route, what is the way in which track and search system works... And this data is being gathered in an ongoing manner, as the missile travels. Our ranges do not feature a telemetry suite which would allow for collection of such data throughout its flight.

The first firing must have been a challenge for the unit. I understand that more operations as such are planned in the future.

In 2016 the “first” squadron launched its missile, with the “second” being non-existent. At the moment we are introducing the “second” squadron that is probably going to be involved in the second live fire exercise planned to take place between 2019 and 2021. I do not know whether we’re going to fire one or two missiles. This is going to be decided upon by the General Commander of the Armed Forces, probably with involvement seen on the part of the Navy Inspector. The unit cannot plan initiative as such on its own.

Is deployment training planned for some elements of the squadron, for instance with them being deployed to the Baltics, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, along with later integration of the unit with the target designation system available locally?

Plans as such are unknown to me. This question should not be addressed to me.

The unit is ready to undertake operations as such?

Of course. Deployment to Norway has shown that we are a highly mobile unit capable of operating beyond the borders of Poland. Deployment back then was organized as a joint operation. We were using airlift and naval transport capabilities. Thus, all of the assets available have been verified. A combat module was deployed with two launchers, but without a radar, since we were not tasked with detecting the maritime threats. The targets were designated externally, within the framework of the locally available observation and command system. We received the firing solution from that system.

Furthermore, as a part of a separate operation, we have successfully loaded our technicals on the Polish Lublin-class landing ships.

During the operation in Norway the targets for the launchers were designated via the Norwegian system. What ways are used to designate targets in Poland? Are the integral TRS-15C radars used exclusively, or are other data sources involved?

I can receive targeting data from a variety of external sources, and this is the primary combat procedure for me. I can use data provided via sources different than my radar. We shall remember that the radar’s range remains limited, when it comes to detection of naval targets. Here the Earth’s curvature is a tough obstacle, and you cannot bend the radar beam, unless we’re speaking of super-refraction, which is an anomaly. In normal conditions our radars are used to monitor airborne threats at vast distances. However, in case of the marine channel the target detection distance is limited, in comparison with the range of the effector. And this is a “several-times” kind of difference.

The coast features a vast network of radars used by the Navy, Border Guard and Maritime Authorities. Was a variant verified, in which these radars provide the unit with targeting data?

I am receiving data from the unit to which I am subordinated. And for me, this is the primary method used to acquire the data, from a higher level C2 station, from the external source. Thus, the C2 station should take care of working with extra data sources.

Image Credit: M. Dura
Image Credit: M. Dura

So are you considering equipping the MJR unit with UAVs that would be tasked with target designation? Is it planned that the unit would operate its own drones?

Plans as such are unknown to me. In my opinion we should be expanding the reconnaissance capabilities for the whole military, to avoid delegating drones for a single-unit use.

Should such capabilities be available, I would be using them effectively, however I would probably utilize only a minor part of the available capacity – and this would be a waste. I am convinced that UAV systems of this kind would be a perfect asset to provide reconnaissance for me and for other units as well.

Obviously, should such procurement take place, I would have no problems introducing these assets into the structure of my unit.

I would also like to ask you about MJR placed in a wider context of use. To what extent NATO remains interested in this unit? Was it visited by NATO officers or were the MJR representatives requested to demonstrate the capabilities?

I cannot answer this question.

Thank you for the interview.

Maksymilian Dura.