Jędrzej Graf: General, you have been the General Commander for six years, two full terms of office. How do you perceive that period? Will you continue to serve?
General Jarosław Mika, General Commander of the Polish Armed Forces: It's been six years of very intensive effort, ever since I took over the General Command of the Armed Forces. We have managed to accomplish a lot, during that term. We have been intensifying the training efforts, also when working with the allies. This translates into an increase of combat capabilities, but also of interoperability and the ability to work together. We also have tightened the cooperation between the individual branches of the military, subordinated to the General Command.
We continue to establish new structures, such as the 18th Mechanized Division. We are increasing the number of troops, and commissioning new equipment. In recent years the Polish military was being involved in activities tied to the COVID pandemic first, and now the soldiers, since last year, have been on a mission to support the protection of the Polish-Belarussian border from hybrid threats. All of the above is happening in parallel to the reinforcement of defensive capabilities, modernization, training, and exercises.
The year 2022 has been special, as a full-scale war broke out next to our border. We have launched an unprecedented programme aimed at reinforcement of the Polish Armed Forces. It has been expanded, in comparison to the plans made previously, within the scope of quantities, acquired technologies, and structural expansion. There are grand challenges, and great opportunities ahead of the Polish Armed Forces. I am ready to face the new challenges, in accordance with requirements of the Polish Armed Forces.
Back in 2022, the Polish Ministry of Defence signed several modernization agreements. On the other hand, the equipment, including the T-72 tanks, has also been transferred to Ukraine in high numbers. What impact did that have, on the Armed Forces' capacity to accomplish the assigned tasks?
Let me start with the optimistic point. Back in 2022, we adopted the Act on Homeland Defence. Armed Forces Support Fund was established, while the military equipment and armament procurement process underwent a reform which translated into accelerated modernization. But the first step in that direction came in a form of a decision made last year, on the procurement of 250 M1A2 Abrams SEPv3 Main Battle Tanks. As time goes by, we see that this has been a very good decision, even though it sometimes faced some critique.
Determination adopted by every person who made contributions to the agreement related to the Abrams tanks over a brief period has shown a light in the tunnel when it comes to modernization. Thanks to the above, we have become ready to do things quicker, better, and more effectively. More steps, that have begun to be implemented in 2022, were often made based on the Abrams programme experience.
When it comes to the delivery of equipment for the Armed Forces of Ukraine, we need to be aware, that they are also fighting to maintain our security. We owe the Ukrainians, as their neighbours. The security of Poland, and the whole Central-Eastern Europe would depend on the effective defence of Ukraine in the future. The equipment that we have transferred to Ukraine has a certain combat value, and this is why it is being delivered. However, thanks to the accelerated modernization process we will be able to replace it quickly. I want to add that our aid for Ukraine has been greatly appreciated by the Ukrainian commanders. I've been discussing this matter in person with the Deputy Commander of the Land Forces of Ukraine, during a conference in Germany. All of our neighbours are getting involved in the provision of help for Ukraine.
As Russia invaded Ukraine, for the first time since 1989 in Poland we have come to a consensus on the emergence of the need to launch a broad armed forces modernization programme. How can it be effectively carried out?
The technical modernization process is based upon a couple of pillars. The first one is the necessity to carry it out, and the common agreement on the emergence of that necessity. Beyond our border, there is a regular war raging on, and even though the Russian aggressor refers to that war as a special military operation, it is reminiscent of WWII in many areas. The operational activities are very intense, with major forces involved. I want to add that even decades after the war, the fighting will have a long-term impact on Ukraine, which has also been confirmed by our experience. Even though several decades have gone by since the end of World War II, the bomb disposal units working under the jurisdiction of the General Command are still working on the disposal of thousands of examples of unexploded ordnance. This is a very important service that we shall not forget.
Let me come back to the development of the capabilities of the Polish Armed Forces. The full-scale war near our border forces us to have strong, well-equipped, and well-trained Armed Forces that also remain ready to perform their tasks, as expected purpose-wise. Today, seeing what is happening in Ukraine, nobody disputes that. We have a foundation ready, for following through with the reinforcement of the Armed Forces.
Another foundation comes in a form of the Act on Homeland Defence, and a reinforcement package for the Polish Armed Forces. These documents contain a new financial framework and the plan aimed at increasing the number of troops in the Polish Armed Forces. The technical modernization process needs to proceed at a rapid pace. Not only should it take into account the needs of the existing units (that are quite broad), but also the equipment used by the structures that are, or would be established soon.
In recent years we have intensified our cooperation with the allies to a significant extent. To what extent this may have an impact on modernization?
The US and NATO forces presence in Poland is the third element conditioning the modernization process. Not only are we referring to the elements that we've had here for years, such as the Multinational Corps North-East based in Szczecin, within which we collaborate closely with Germany and Denmark, Multinational North-East Division in Elbląg, and the US Armoured Brigade Combat Team, deployed in the Bolesławiec-Świętoszów-Żagań-Skwierzyna area, the enhanced Forward Presence battalion combat group, but also other components present in Toruń, Poznań, or Powidz. All of the above factors force us to raise the levels of interoperability and the capabilities to work with the allies. I want to stress the fact that all branches of the Armed Forces subordinated to me take part in this, starting with the Navy, Air Force, Army, and Special Operations Forces to finish with.
Finally, we cannot forget that the full-scale war at our border has also cut our Eastern supply chains. Therefore, we need to be even more determined to rapidly and successfully conduct the modernization, to boost the capabilities of the Polish Armed Forces. I want to add that throughout my military career of 4 decades I had no chance to implement so a broad defensive capabilities enhancement programme - stepping beyond modernization, over a period so short.
The previous projects had been spread across a much longer timeline and they also had a smaller scale. The challenges are grand, but I am an optimist here. In our geographical location and situation, when it comes to security, we have no alternatives - we can only head towards a major reinforcement of the Armed Forces. Let me add that the experiences that we have gathered during the commissioning of the Abrams MBTs, or the establishment of the 18th Division, have been promising.
Last year the Voluntary General Military Service programme was launched. The programme is to create a foundation for increasing the number of troops in the Polish Armed Forces and also to recover what's in the reserves. A heated expert debate is going on, asking whether a solution as such would be effective enough. Suggestions have been made, that we need to make one further step, restoring compulsory military service. What are the first conclusions?
The conclusions reached after the Voluntary General Military Service was launched are very interesting. Let me begin with the fact that the decision to join the military is a sign of patriotism, devotion, and passion. Many young people do exhibit those traits, and also passion that, quite recently, could not have been put into use. When I was working as the commander of the Command Support Brigade of the North-East Corps, in one of the first professionalized units we could have been accepting five to ten troops at once.
These days, that recruitment is much bigger, especially in the East of Poland, where we recruit 50 or even 100 soldiers in one go. And that happens in a situation in which we, until recently, were not planning to implement an instrument as such, at least at such a scale. The conclusions drawn from the Voluntary General Military Service are being continuously gathered and analyzed. As that form of service is new, some aspects will probably require further refining.
I want to add that I am aware of the fact that the military recruitment process is a major challenge, and in essence, there is no sliver bullet when it comes to attracting the youth to join the military. The allies, including the US Army, or the Bundeswehr, face a similar set of challenges. Our experience shows that the number of volunteers among young people depends on multiple factors, including season and the education cycle. Naturally, more people are eager to serve after the academic or school year ends, and they face the prospect of entering another stage of their lives.
And what about the dynamics of the interest in military service? How these are shaped?
I can say that in general, the interest in military service in Poland has been growing. Not just among young people, but also among women, who become especially dedicated. Military Preparation Units are among the forms of pre-service preparation that are becoming increasingly popular. This is beneficial, from our point of view.
As the General Command we are facing a major challenge related to how we can recruit, keep, and perfect our cadre. Voluntary General Military Service shall only be the first stepping stone, when going toward professionalized service, and then perfecting one's career at further career stages. Let me add that young people today have a great set of possibilities ahead when beginning military service. These possibilities include training abroad - in the US, or Korea; the use of very modern equipment, and the use of English, from the very start of the service. We want to make our cadre perfect. It would be best to do that in sync with self-education. The possibilities here, which I want to emphasize, are very broad.
Another challenge stems from keeping the experienced soldiers in - many of them resign. Recently Minister Błaszczak announced a new financial bonus for soldiers who have been serving for at least 15 years. What is the genesis of the phenomenon of the soldiers resigning? What can be done to rectify that?
This matter is much broader than remuneration alone, but a set of certain mechanisms needs to be created anyway. Social benefits, such as medical care, accommodation, or schooling for the children also play a valid role here. We do see how the Americans approach that matter at Camp Kościuszko, the forward US Army V Corps command in Poznan. We need to be driven to implement similar solutions in the Polish military.
The uniform image and military service-associated prestige remain highly important. Another element here comes in a form of development options, and the ability to acquire specialist knowledge. For instance, the doctors working within military healthcare can engage in specialist training, and thus heighten the level of their skill. Let me add, that the military healthcare system would undergo expansion, both due to the increased number of troops, as well as the experience coming from Ukraine. And that experience shows that medical aid has a key value for soldiers.
Of course, the self-development also applies to some other specialist skill sets, including mechanics, paratroopers, or even divers. Furthermore, as the Supreme Commander said, the soldier always needs to be paid well and equipped well. We are facing some issues, when it comes to the attractiveness of salaries, for instance in the case of the pilots - they are valued highly in the civil aviation market. But the pilots who remain in service do exhibit a lot of passion and determination. The extra bonuses, more and more of them, are necessary, of course, but they are just the icing on the cake, they need to be a part of a broader system.
Let me go back to the Voluntary General Military Service. Many opinions suggest that recruiting so many candidates would mean that some people who should not be in the military, actually join the armed forces. Experienced soldiers sometimes complain about the reduced recruitment criteria. How would you comment on that?
Indeed, there are some cases like that - but they are not common. However, the changes in the recruitment criteria shall be viewed as a step towards a rational use of the potential that we have at our disposal, as a state, and as a society. They also result on the ground of the greater saturation of the Armed Forces with modern equipment. A variety of positions within the Armed Forces requires a variety of predispositions. Not everybody has to get a result that would be on par with the Olympians, however, there are some positions where the norms cannot be reduced. We also encourage the soldiers to engage in sports, and martial arts - this makes it possible to improve physical fitness when the soldiers are in service already, even if their PT results are average at first. That requires a lot of hard work, but is possible, and gives one an immense sense of satisfaction.
On the other hand, the advancements in the field of medicine make it possible to admit soldiers to service, who struggle with ailments that were considered incurable 2-3 decades ago, rendering them unfit. A separate matter is related to accepting soldiers struggle with certain limitations but nevertheless want and are able to continue the service, the veterans, or those who went through accidents. It is very important to use their potential, wherever possible.
At the same time, we are fully aware of the fact that the demographic decline would be, and is, the greatest challenge here. Fewer, and fewer children are born, and thus, naturally, we will have fewer and fewer viable candidates. Paradoxically, creating new units in the East of Poland today, we do not feel that to a great extent, given the region's demography, and employment market structures. But the issue in question will be growing. In the long run, it would be beneficial for more children to be born, but that is an issue of social changes.
I would also like to ask about the Division structures, also within the context of establishing new tactical elements, such as the Marshall Józef Piłsudski 1st Division of Legions Infantry (1. Dywizja Legionów Piechoty). Should the individual Army Divisions be homogeneous? The lack of equipment- and structural- coherence would translate into problems in the department of logistics.
On one hand, it would be desirable for the Divisions to be homogeneous. The art of war says, however, that capabilities need to be tailored to the surroundings, and we need to take that into the account. Maintaining proper levels of interoperability is the most important of matters here. We have gathered experience in establishing interoperability already, and also when it comes to commanding capabilities across different elements. This has been one of the key tasks that we had to handle, ever since we became a NATO member state back in 1999. And now, we are at an entirely different level, and we are also developing that potential continuously.
We are also scrutinizing the models adopted by the leading military forces of the West, US Army included. We also have gathered experience in establishing the 18th Mechanized Division. From the very start, it was being formed as per the new standards.
We are placing our bets on high saturation with modern technology, over a short period, as the possibilities permit. The new platforms require us to establish a proper logistics back end, and a proper stockpile. We also need to adapt to that, if we want to accomplish the objective of rapid reinforcement of combat capabilities. Many matters are still at the planning stage, with no key decisions made. There are still works underway, one could say, "at the design desks". I can assure you, however, that we will be retaining the interoperability, and compatibility of the structures, even if these are a bit varied due to the terrain conditions on location, or due to the specific nature of the equipment at hand.
The war has also tested numerous myths tied to the modern battlespace, also when it comes to heavy equipment. You have been making multiple public statements, claiming that the theses about the end of the main battle tank remain untrue. Can we speak of a renaissance of the Armoured Forces?
Yes, as I said, the principles governing the war remain unchanged, even in a situation when the battle environment does change. Both the observations tied to the war in Ukraine, and our peacekeeping deployment experiences, which were happening in different conditions, show clearly that the land forces are ultimately the guarantor of bringing peace and security into the given area.
The joint operations are being carried out by all Service Branches of the military, and by all components within those branches. We need to be continuously increasing the effectiveness of interoperability between them, and make use of the new technological capabilities to gain an advantage over the enemy. That does not change the fact that the terrain won't be safe unless our troops set their boots on the ground in the given area.
Meanwhile, the Armoured Forces, working hand-in-hand with the mechanized infantry, and exhibiting a lot of firepower, mobility, and high levels of protection guaranteed by the main battle tanks, are indispensable in taking over the initiative, stopping the enemy offensive, and preventing losing any ground to the adversaries. The remaining branches of the Armed Forces have no capabilities as such at hand.
I have heard people announcing the death of the tank multiple times, throughout my 4-decades long career. Always, it was an erroneous statement. And the same applies to what we are dealing with now, which has been confirmed by the experiences gathered in Ukraine, and the role played by the Armoured Forces there now. This does not relieve us of the necessity to bring the interoperability of the armoured units, and other branches of the military to perfection; we also need to seek the option to increase the resilience of those units towards a variety of threats, and those that are present on the battlefield in a more broad manner, including ATGMs, UAVs, and loitering munitions.
When it comes to the capabilities of the mechanized infantry, it seems that the war in Ukraine has broken a certain taboo. Up until the recent period, the Polish defence strategy stated that in essence, all vehicles belonging to the mechanized, and motorized infantry units, also need to retain amphibious capability. More, and more signals show that a new approach is being adopted.
In my opinion, the capabilities shall vary, as the structures do. If we conduct operations in areas with numerous water obstacles, amphibious capabilities should be available, no doubts emerge here. That also depends on the specific nature of the conducted combat operations. If the given tactical element employs surprise engagements, with a significant burden placed on mobility, then this is also a serious argument for the amphibious capabilities of land platforms.
On the other hand, in different terrain, when mass quantities of equipment are employed, and we carry out counterattacks or need a higher degree of protection for the soldiers, this may come at a cost of amphibious capability. We need both amphibious platforms, and heavy vehicles missing that capability. We also need to remember that we want to rapidly reinforce the potential of the military. And that refers to the Mechanized Forces, among other components.
Platforms operated by them today, namely the BWP-1 IFV, need to be replaced as soon as possible. When it was born, it was an innovative design. However, today it does not provide the user with the key protection capabilities, and the firepower, which has been confirmed by the experience gathered in Ukraine. The mechanized units need to attain the capability to put modern IFVs to use, providing a proper level of protection, so that they can effectively operate on the modern, and future battlefield - according to their design purpose.
As we are covering the topic of the IFV, the Polish industry is finalizing the process of creating the amphibious Borsuk IFV. It is already being tested by the soldiers. What are your thoughts on this design?
I am an optimist here. I do believe in the capabilities of the Polish defence industry. When we were commissioning the first Krab howitzer, many words of critique were emerging. Today we are getting reports showing clearly, that Krab howitzer is doing a hugely good job. Other equipment does well too: Grot rifles, Piorun MANPADS, of FlyEye UAVs.
When engaging in conversation with the industry, I always press to finalize the work as quickly as possible and deliver equipment in large lots. Of course, any piece of equipment needs to undergo testing. The problems of the infancy period need to be rectified. But this is a natural element of the development process. The conclusions drawn from the Borsuk IFV test programme remain optimistic. As I said, there is no doubt Poland needs modern infantry fighting vehicles, quickly, and in mass quantities.
Poland has been offered to buy a heavy IFV - the AS-21 Redback.
It is a vehicle with major potential, however, it requires some refinement. The commissioning of a heavy IFV in some units would boost our protection levels for our forces. The time at which the capabilities can be attained also remains relevant to us. The current vehicles do not offer adequate capabilities.
I should add, that we shall not be using a single equipment type. More variety in the inventory provides us with an ability to use it more flexibly, and also gives us mutual complementarity, in situations when different sets of capabilities are needed. This also translates into a diminished load imposed on the logistical chains, in the event in which a manufacturing boost is necessary, or when spare parts are needed. A complete unification is not always the way to go. Here, examples from the Air Force may be brought up, as when one aircraft type is grounded, this has an impact on the whole service branch.
Finally, concluding the interview, let me go back to the Armoured Forces - there, two types of equipment are being introduced - the K2, and the Abrams main battle tanks. The Abrams main battle tank training is already underway. What do the Polish tankers have to say, what are their first opinions?
We have been receiving the first feedback from the users, coming from experienced NCOs, who were the first ones trained to use these main battle tanks. This is very important, as the members of that group usually have had experience with several types of main battle tanks during their service. They know the trade of the tank crew very well, and they know what the elements are, that they would need to be effective on the battlefield. This is especially important, as these soldiers would be responsible for training the tank crews in the future.
When it comes to Abrams, one of the experienced NCOs told me that the tank is almost perfect for him. It is very resilient - not just against enemy threats, but it is easy to handle, it is soldier-proof. Within that regard, the Abrams is decisively superior when compared to the Leopard 2. Even though Leopard 2 has been a major leap, from the T-72. Both Abrams, as well as Leopard, are not complicated when it comes to overhauls. One can get the engine out in several dozens of minutes. In T-72 this takes 24 hours, or even more. This is very relevant, considering the field use conditions. The opinions expressed by the soldiers are unequivocal: The Abrams MBT is a leap forward, concerning the Leopard when it comes to firepower, resilience, situational awareness, or sustainment suitability.
Meanwhile, the K2 is a very advanced main battle tank. The soldiers who fly to Korea, to participate in training courses claim the K2 is the main battle tank of the future. Of course, any equipment is as good, as the soldiers who use it. Thus, we need to enhance our training continuously, and try hard to use the different, varied features of the equipment that we use and commission. The equipment is very important, and there's more and more modern equipment at hand, but the soldier is the most important here.
Thank you for this conversation.