As announced by the General Command of the Polish Armed Forces, the launch took place on 26th May, during a planned exercise involving elements of the 3rd “Warszawska” Air Defence Missile Brigade. The exercise was taking place at the Central Air Force training range, located in Ustka. Apart from the Pilica launches, combat training, technical know-how test, and combat competition also took place. The equipment operated by the “Warszawska” brigade - its Newa-SC SAM and Pilica SHORAD systems - was also showcased to the French allies.
The “premiere” night launch of the Piorun missile was conducted against the MJ-7 Szogun aerial target. The Piorun missile was launched from a Jelcz vehicle. The launch was successful. During the very same exercise, Pilica systems AAA assets were also used, against slow- and fast-dropping targets.
The Pilica systems have been operated by elements of the 3rd "Warszawska" Missile Air Defence brigade since 2020. So far, two systems as such have been delivered, with six on the order. Further procurement is being considered though. The main task of the Pilica system is to protect Newa-SC/Wisła/Narew SAMs, at a very short range. The systems are being supplied by the PGZ-Pilica consortium. It is led by ZM Tarnów (tech leader, integrator).
Each of the systems consists of 6 fire units with tractors, a command station, radar, two transport vehicles, and two missile/munitions carriers. Each of the PSR-A Pilica fire units includes two automatic 23 mm AAA guns and 2 Grom/Piorun MANPADS launchers. Each of the systems has its own optoelectronic sensor, with a thermal imager and laser rangefinder. This provides the system with all-weather, day, and night capability. The Pilica's optronics suite is supplied by the PCO S.A. company. The newly established experience made it possible to develop Polish-made optoelectronics for the ZSSW-30 unmanned turret system, destined for the Rosomak APC, and the Borsuk IFV.
The Piorun missile is IR-guided and it can be used against a myriad of airborne threats, at night and during the day, at a distance of up to 6,500 meters, flying at altitudes ranging from 10 to 4,000 meters. When Piorun was being designed, the main goal was to increase the range and altitude at which targets could be detected and destroyed. Expansion of the performance envelope was expected, in comparison to the Piorun’s predecessor - the Grom MANPADS. Piorun missiles have been a part of the Polish military aid package delivered to Ukraine, where they have seen successful use in combat. Before Russia launched its open aggression against Kyiv, the US Department of Defence also procured a certain quantity of those systems.
Piorun MANPADS has been developed as a result of a development study launched in 2010, by a consortium formed by Mesko S.A., CRW Telesystem-Mesko, and the Military University of Technology. The main goal was to develop a new MANPADS, via an upgrade of the existing Grom system. The development of the new design was finalized in 2015, while the public unveiling took place during the 24th edition of the MSPO event in Kielce, in 2016. Back then, the system also received a Presidential award. In December 2016 the Polish Ministry of Defence signed a contract, concerning the delivery of 420 launch systems and 1300 missiles for the Polish Armed Forces, with the delivery deadline set in 2022.
The seeker was also modernized, with a new detector, new guidance algorithms, and a proximity fuse. The warhead, launch motor, and coolant were also subjected to modifications. The detection gain, range, and effective range have been increased. The missile is also more resistant to any disruption or countermeasures.
The launch mechanism now works with the targeting system and features a target type switch that allows the user to select the guidance algorithm to match the threat. New observation instruments have been installed on a special purpose mount, and the launch system also features a new battery compartment and new launch authorization solution. Piorun missiles may be used both as MANPADS operated by the Polish Army, but also as a part of Poprad or Pilica systems.