Armed Forces

"Other Political Benefits" Shall Dominate the Operational Capabilities? Question Marks over the Wisła Program

Photo: Sgt. 1st Class Jaquetta Z.Gooden, 94th AAMDC Public Affairs
Photo: Sgt. 1st Class Jaquetta Z.Gooden, 94th AAMDC Public Affairs

The MoD’s officials discussing the selection criteria for the air defense system under the Wisła program, have indicated among others the „other political benefits”. Some commentators see it as an additional strengthening of the alliance with the United States, potentially allowing for significant increase of Poland’s security. However, the US units equipped with Patriot systems are already under great operational pressure and implementing modernization of these systems may require some reductions. Moreover, the final decision about the shape of modifications has not been taken and it may include other solutions than those in the Patriot NG system, which the „Patriot POL” should be based on. That would mean that Polish armed forces will be equipped with a system different than that used by the the US Army.

As it is known, the defense ministry has been considering selection of solutions under the Wisła program based on technical conditions, industrial cooperation, benefits of potential expansion of military cooperation as well as "other political benefits". Taking the political factors under consideration was also confirmed by the MoD's head Tomasz Siemoniak. Some commentators hold the view that acquisition of that defense system from the United States will help in strengthening Poland's security by enhancing the alliance with the US.

Such approach may raise a number of questions. Its result is a limited trust in North Atlantic Alliance's mechanisms by the decision-makers who are striving for accommodation of "other political benefits" - even though the Alliance was strengthened at the Newport summit. It is hard to imagine that Washington would block decision about the use of collective defense system based on the selection of that or another air defense system by one of its members. The more so that other NATO countries, like Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia, deemed by many commentators as much more vulnerable than Poland, do not poses the armament of the kind at all and are not likely to acquire it, despite the plans for increase in their defense spendings.

Secondly, the US Army units equipped with Patriot systems are currently under significant operational pressure, which puts in question the ability for quick-deployment of large number of batteries in the threat-area. Lt. Gen. David Mann, head of U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command stated in February 2015 at AUSA conference that eight of the total 15 Patriot system battalions are in theatre deployment or stationed outside the CONUS.

Then, in a testimony before the House Armed Services Committee of the US Congress, general Mann said that the recent Patriots deployment in Turkey and Jordan, ordered in view of the need to support the allies, resulted in additional burden for the US Army's air defense units, which were previously heavily deployed in operation theaters.

Without significant reduction in our worldwide deployments, it will be challenging for the Army to execute critical planned modernization of our AMD force

Lt. Gen. David Mann, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command

As we know, the Americans have also trained deployment of Patriot batteries in Poland, under the Freedom Shock exercise. Both the US and the French governments have made commitments during the Wisła system procedure that they would be able to deploy the SAMP/T and Patriot systems on the Polish soil (before delivery of the first systems, after the contract is signed).

Clearly, the Americans have a lot more of mid-range air defense systems, but part of those is involved in continuous operations. As Maj. Gen. Gary Cheek, US Army's Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for operations told the Breaking Defense, the ability to deploy a significant number of Patriot batteries in case of a sudden contingency, is being put at risk.

Moreover, due to the sectored characteristics of the system and the lack of SHORAD systems (intermediate between the Patriot and Stinger/Avenger), protection of certain assets may require placing more units than in case of an all-around system. On the other hand it needs to be remembered that the United States designate elements of the Patriot battalions to the Global Response Force - a rapid reaction force, assumed to be ready for deployment within 96 hours and able to support units stationed in Europe.

As the MoD's head Tomasz Siemoniak said in RMF FM radio, by selection of the air and missile defense system, the "political criterion, one of Poland's security in the Alliance was considered". Patriot is the most widely used system of the class within NATO, but also the SAMP/T system was designated by the French to the Allied missile defense system, which was confirmed by Brian McKeon, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in his March testimony in the House of Representatives. And the previously rejected, due to the "operationality" criterion, MEADS system has been developed by a NATO agency from the scratch, with interoperability among the Allied command and missile defense elements in mind.

It also needs to be remembered about the general conditions of development of the US armed forces, including the still binding Budget Control Act, limiting the funding and having a negative impact on capability levels. Maybe in the framework of "other political benefits" it was envisaged to establish in Poland potential permanent presence of significant US forces.

The Americans are facing the necessity to implement a far-reaching program of modernization of its armed forces (including the nuclear deterrent triad) and at the moment it is rather unlikely that they would form and move permanently new units from the US to Poland. Finally, such decisions depend on the political climate and may be changed time and again during the air defense system operational life, estimated for approximately 30 years.

Potential establishment of rotational presence of a training unit, on a basis similar to that of the Aviation Detachment in Łask, however required, should not determine the selection of the air and missile defense system or any other type of weapon. The more so, that exercises in interoperation of such systems should be conducted regardless from concrete solutions. It is worth mentioning that the JAWTEX 2014 exercise in Germany was attended by both the Patriot (German) and the SAMP/T (French) systems.

Chief of the General Staff, general Mieczysław Gocuł stated that the selection of the Patriot systems was influenced by the planned deployment in Poland of the Aegis Ashore system elements, which was supposed to enable interoperation with the Patriot batteries. Primarily that system was designed above all to counter MRBM's, launched from the Middle East.

The House of Representatives Armed Services Committee has recommended however, in the Defense Department draft budget, including the counter-aerodynamic targets capability in regard to the systems deployed in Poland and Romania. The discussed regulations will have to be approved by the Congress and POTUS. So far, Lockheed Martin has denied that the Aegis Ashore system was to be modified in order to achieve the anti-air capability. Finally, the potential enabling of interoperation (if such decision is taken by the American side) should also be considered in terms of military cooperation, not the "other political benefits". A question remains open, to what extent the desired open architecture system (regardless of its manufacturer), could be able to interact with the Aegis Ashore system, which id developed under a NATO project.

What the Patriot-POL will be like?

Currently the Americans have been conducting analyses regarding the shape of the future air defense system. At the moment it is not known which radar set is to be used in the perspective defense system. At the same time, as col. Adam Duda of the Armament Inspectorate said at a media briefing, in case of selection of a different radar set by the Americans: "We will have our own radar". That would mean that the solution selected by the US armed forces as optimal and desired, was not deemed as such by the Polish military officials.

For the moment, we know the configuration of the two batteries that are going to be delivered to the Armed Forces by 2019. Whereas the key elements of the final "Patriot POL" system do not exist so far. Having considered that the negotiated contract is an intergovernmental one, it may be worth looking at solutions examined by the Americans. The Patriot modernization is subject to Analysis of Alternatives, in which both the solutions based on modernization of existing system components are considered as well as the introduction of a new launcher and radar set.

Based on analyses of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation Office, revealed by Inside Defense, which were submitted to the House Armed Services Committee, it comes out that not only a modernization of the currently operated Patriot radar is considered but also using the MFCR radar from the MEADS system, or - developing a new, rotating radar based on gallium nitride technology (which may provide better parameters compared to MFCR). Under the deep modernization of air defense program the Americans are also considering the use of the mobile launcher from the MEADS system.

The House Armed Services Committee has adopted a draft of the defense spending authorization bill for 2016, which provides for halting the funds earmarked for the Patriot systems modernization, as well as modernization of the launchers electronic systems, until completion of the Analysis of Alternatives. It was indicated that the analytical process is going to be completed by September 2015.

The Congressmen have emphasized the importance of the modernized Patriot capability for the US Army, in regard to air and missile defense. In result of the Analysis of Alternatives there may (but does not need to) be introduced a solution based on the equipment that is currently not used in the Patriot system's current form.

Finally, as the Breaking Defense was briefed by general Christopher Spillman, Commandant of the U.S. Army Air Defense Artillery School in Fort Still, the Patriot modernization in the framework of the IBCS system may achieve the objective of the target being designated by the general surveillance radar, and not only by the specific fire control station.

Those listed solutions may be acquired for the United States Government. Hence, it seems that in case of the decision being made by the Americans on the purchase (regardless of what company will be manufacturing each element!) this acquisition should be considered under the intergovernmental agreement, with taking into account the industrial cooperation.

It needs to be mentioned that independence of concrete radar set would significantly increase the flexibility of implementation of the air and missile defense systems. It would also allow for introduction in the final configuration of the air and missile defense system batteries a new type of radar set (for instance with a rotating array, enabling for detection and tracking of ballistic missiles in 360 degrees range).

In addition, the Patriot system launchers offered to Poland do not provide for different configuration of missiles on one launcher (either PAC-3 MSE or GEM-T). In effect it means that the only missiles capable of fully all-around target engagement will be the costly PAC-3 MSE (deployment of which is highly legitimate in case of the ballistic threats, but not necessarily for other, less demanding objects). Moreover, they could be used only on one launcher (one can not use two types of missiles on Patriot launchers), which means that its potential loss (one launcher in one fire unit) may result in a loss of all-around engagement capability.

Many sources indicate that the GEM-T missiles require target destination by a dedicated radar set. If those informations are confirmed, it could mean that the flexibility of its operation is limited to the sector, to which the specific radar's array is directed. It was previously announced that Poland was going to receive under the Patriot offer, the LCI missiles, probably based on the Israeli Stunner missiles. They do not require designation of the target by a dedicated radar (equally the PAC-3 MSE, Aster 30 and the adapted air-to-air missiles used in SHORAD systems - IRIS-T SL, AIM-120 AMRAAM, Mica VL) which makes them capable of interoperation with any radar set of sufficient parameters (just like the PAC-3 MSE interoperates with the AN/APQ-65 radar set of the Patriot system and the MFCR radar set of the MEADS system).

Whereas in the "bridging" capability, the use of the GEM-T missiles is understandable, due to the lack of "operational" solution that would in 100% fulfill the MoD's requirements (leaving alone the debate about validity of such requirement), it is hard to understand the pursuit for making them also a key component of the final air defense system of the Polish armed forces, with a 2050 time horizon. As I mentioned earlier, the costly PAC-3 MSE missiles should be in a way "booked" for countering the most demanding targets, as they will additionally be placed only on one launcher in the fire unit. It seems that their role might be taken over by another, more flexible in operation and fully all-around missile (in accordance with the LCI concept). Similar controversies are raised by the lack of dual-missile operation on the launchers, which could result in loss of the full-angle operational capability of the system in case of losing one of the launchers.

As it is known, both of the systems present in the last phase of the Wisła program procedure (Patriot and the SAMP/T) have not matched all the technical requirements. It was a proof of the assumption that the air and missile defense systems are currently on a generational threshold. Taking into account that the deliveries of the two first batteries (that would provide a limited capability) are going to take place by 2019, it seems to be desirable to establish the presence on the Polish soil of NATO mid-range air defense systems (belonging not only to the armed forces of the selected contractor and not of the selected  type) - as it happens in Turkey, where 5 Patriot batteries are stationed at the moment (the US, German and Spanish). At the same time, the shape of the final system should be determined primarily by capability requirements and by the capabilities provided by the currently existing solutions. As it was indicated previously in debating the Analysis of Alternatives, now also the Americans are considering a number of solutions (both those based on the existing Patriot components as well as those newly introduces to the system) - despite the fact that they have been using the system for decades.

In light of the Ukraine crisis, the Polish procurement of the air defense system gains special importance, also in view of providing the long-term air defense capability for NATO in Central and Eastern Europe. It seems that the debate conducted with participation of the Allies should embrace not only the specific system's capabilities (especially now) but also the perspectives for future modernization, as the Wisła program will serve for protection of NATO's Eastern flank for decades to come. It is legitimate to acknowledge the development of air defense cooperation in the allied framework - and not only withe the country, who will be the system's prime contractor.

What next?

The acquisition of the air defense system is the largest, long-term army modernization program implemented since 1989. Within its framework, certain capabilities are going to be developed, which will be used as long as by 2050. The selection of certain solutions, with fulfillment of the NATO-interoperability premise (which certainly is not an exclusive feature of one specific system), should be done on the basis of long-term capability assessment, that will be delivered to Poland with its acquisition.

The intergovernmental negotiations on the Wisła system acquisition shall commence in May. Whereas the configuration of the first two Patriot batteries is more or less known, the shape of the final system still remains a mystery. It is required that by 2022 Poland would be supplied with fully all-around systems, featuring an open architecture, capable of flexible use of specific launchers and disposing of missiles capable of effective (also by economic terms) countering of all threats. So far it is too early to judge whether the American offer's selection allows for achieving such a solution. Those in charge of the negotiations should remember that their goal is primarily capability development, also within the NATO system, and not obtaining the murky and Washington-mood dependent "other political benefits".