Armed Forces

Can Polish military industry model itself on Israeli?

  • Policyjny Mercedes Sprinter, fot.
    Policyjny Mercedes Sprinter, fot.

Over the next couple of years Polish Army is gone go through fundamental modernization. In document published by Ministry of Development titled “Plan for Responsible Development”, there is a statement mentioning 2.5 % of GDP being spent on defense. The aim is not only to purchase up-to-date equipment and to amplify combat abilities. Equally important is to generate economic and innovation growth for Polish industry, not exclusively military one.

How it can be accomplished most successfully, without falling into traps often caused by state control over such an important branch of economy? What can be done, so the ordered equipment will be manufactured to the largest possible degree by Polish companies, using of offset agreements will result in transfer of advanced technologies into Poland, and in case of foreign equipment, it can be serviced and even modernized in Poland?

           Country that can be analyzed as a good benchmark for Poland is Israel. It is worthy to do so even thou there are serious differences between these two countries. Israel is able to offer a very high level of advanced technologies as well as very deep military knowledge, which arises from its constant engagement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, danger presented by Lebanese Hezbollah and challenges coming from various groups and militias operating in Syria. Those dangers can be hardly imagined in case of Poland, even in the case of hybrid conflict. Also Polish defense budget amounts only to 60-65% of Israeli one. But we should remember that Polish military spending is planned to steadily increase, and Israel has to devote big part of its budget on training new draftees, on ongoing military operations, and quite frequent, but almost always partial, mobilizations. Those are not expenses that are part of the Polish defense budget.  

           Let’s get down to brass tacks. How Israel is stimulating development of its military industry? One of the most interesting dilemmas  is the right choice of priorities. According to Israeli general Israel Tal there are four main priorities.

  1. The refusal of foreign powers to sell critical weapons.
  2. The abilities of accessible human capital should show the direction of development.
  3. The lower cost of domestic production in Israel compared to imports.
  4. The production only of weapons’ systems that were needed to facilitate a regional deterrence posture and were unattainable from other sources.

Fifth  priority which wasn’t mentioned, and is equally important in decision making process by Israeli government, are export opportunities. It is very important for both, financing of industry and as a tool of foreign policy.  

In Israel there are companies which are owned entirely by a state (“Israel Aerospace Industries”, “Israel Military Industries”, “Rafael Advanced Defense Systems”), ones that function as a joint-stock company (“Elbit Systems”) and privately owned (“Soltam Systems”, “Israel Weapon Industries”, “Israel Shipyards”). Some of them, like „Israel Weapon Industries” and „Israel Shipyards”, were established by a state, and then privatized in order to maximize profits.

In a certain contradiction to idea of self-reliance of Israel is its relationship with United States, which took on its present form in mid-70’s. It is true that Israel gets significant American  financial, technological and logistic military aid which amounts to over 3 billion dollars (lately there are signals that it can be increased to 5 billion dollars). But there are many strings attached to this aid which result in certain political and financial gains for US. First, State Department dictates to Israelis what can be sold to whom. Often purchases of advanced weapons to countries like Russia, China or India were vetoed by Americans. In 2000 US made Israel cancel shipment of sophisticated surveillance drones to China even thou everything was paid for. Couple of times US forced Israel to cease development of designs that would create dangerous competition for American industry and would make Israel too self-reliant. Most painful for Israelis example of that was forced cancellation of developing its own fourth generation jet “Lavi”, which by the late 80’s could become serious competition for F-16. Even thou Israel spent almost 2 billion dollars on project and there were ready prototypes, program was totally scraped and its accomplishments were transferred to Americans.  Additionally US made sure that it has exclusive rights to many Israeli technologies. Lately because of American Middle East policies (Iranian sanctions taken off and steps made by US during last major conflict with Hamas, just to list few) voices appeared from serious Israeli sources that possibility of closer cooperation with China is a possibility. This will be verified by time especially that security system in this part of the world goes through fundamental changes.

An important element of supporting by Israel its military industry is “technological espionage”- unofficial ways to gain technology. It is well established that it is the main expertise of “Mossad” and military intelligence (Aman) pays a lot of attention to it as well. It is not surprising that ex-intelligence officers often times are employed by military manufacturers and connected to them companies. Some of the most well-known “copies”  produced by Israel were planes “Nesher” and “Kfir”, designed based on French “Dassault Mirrage 5”. Its plan was obtained from unidentified “Swiss source”.

Related to, but not entirely, to intelligence community is Israeli immigration policy and how it supports its military industry. Israel is actively recruiting in diaspora talented scientists and constructors of Jewish descent. I had an opportunity to meet once a very talented person in field of physics, who at the age of sixteen got an offer of financed immigration to Israel, accelerated education (which included postponing military service and then service related to physics). I can only add that this person did not have any issues with finding job in Israeli high-tech. During 90’s Israel successfully used its mass immigration from collapsing Soviet Union for development of its export success story, modernization of post-Soviet equipment. 

Last, but the most important element of supporting by Israel its military industry, is skillful using of its foreign policy and offset agreements for gaining new technologies. It is accomplished by smart legal solutions, ability to use different tools of foreign policy, and most importantly, option to offer something in the exchange. It doesn’t include only financial gains but also Israel’s own  “high tech”, “know how” and political capital. The ability to use those is illustrated by cooperation with US in many fields, such as missile, communication and aviation technology, led by companies like “Elbit Systems” and “Rafael”. Starting with planes F-16 and F-22, electronics for “Apache” attack helicopter and ending with radar systems, it is hard to find piece of advanced equipment used by US armed forces that lacks serious Israeli involvement. This dependence goes both ways, just to mention air defense system “Iron Dome” which would not be created without financial and intellectual support by US. Advanced cooperation of Israeli companies includes also cooperation with British, Italian and French companies, and even entities in Romania, where “Elbit” has its branch.

When developing its own military industry, Poland can follow example of Israel in some ways. As part of strengthening eastern NATO flank, skillful diplomacy can result in obtaining substantial military aid, not only from US but Scandinavian countries as well. Just like in case of Israel we are not only talking about financial aid, but mainly about gaining high-tech and production lines as part of offset agreements and other investments into Polish industry. Search for human capital outside Polish boundaries, especially in Polish diaspora can also result in some success. Let’s remember about tough Ukrainian situation and uncertain future of Russia and Belarus. Those countries can be a source of talented individuals, especially if just as announced by secretary Bartosz Kownacki, one of the priorities is to develop abilities to  modernize post-Soviet equipment. In general it would be much better if experts from Zaporozhe and Mykolaiv would not emigrate to Russia but to Poland. And one more remark. To lead such politics we need specific statement of realistic goals that can be achieved during next 10-12 years, statement of realization methods and some state cynicism. Next article will be about possible Scandinavian example.

Jarosław Kruk, Aleksander Czyżewski