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Defence Policy

Bundeswehr Permanently Present in Poland: How We Can Make This Happen?

Germany does have relevant capabilities when it comes to EW aircraft.
Photo. Bundeswehr/Ingo Tesche

The media are saturated with echoes, following statements made by politicians, suggesting that the Bundeswehr’s soldiers could be deployed to, or stationed in Poland. It is worth engaging in a thought exercise and exploring how a solution as such could be implemented, and whether this is possible at all.

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First, one should recall that Germany and Poland are engaged in a very tight defence cooperation that also involves the temporary presence of German soldiers on Polish soil. Following the beginning of Russia’s full-scale aggression against Ukraine, Luftwaffe’s Eurofighter Typhoons and A400M tanker aircraft appeared in the Polish skies. After the tragedy in Przewodów, Germany also temporarily deployed its Patriot systems to Poland.

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However, the involvement of the German Army in exercises in Poland dates back to the times of the Polish NATO accession. Back then, joint exercises were taking place, also within the framework of the Szczecin-stationed Multinational Corps North-East, formed by Poland, Denmark, and Germany in the role of framework nations. German conventional capabilities and the quantitative shape of the Bundeswehr used to be far more impressive than they are these days. German officers have been a part of the Szczecin-based Corps for more than 2 decades now. They are currently under the command of the German General Jürgen-Joachim von Sandrart. The commanders rotationally take turns, between three framework nations.

Following the annexation of Crimea, the Bundeswehr was also a part of exercises organized by the US and NATO forces (Saber Strike, Tobruq Legacy air defence exercise), and it took part in the Polish, national Dragon exercise. Not to mention the fact that Poland acts as a host/transit nation during German deployments to Lithuania, or when German warships frequently visit the Polish ports. Nonetheless, information emerging in the public sphere suggesting that Bundeswehr could be potentially permanently stationed in Poland is a new thing.

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No official confirmation of that has been published so far.

Polish Press Agency (PAP), citing Australian news.com.au media outlet, recently published a news piece on the potential presence of German units in Poland. The said news piece was based on a fusion of a statement made by the Deputy Head of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, expressing an open stance towards a solution as such, and reports of the German media on the assessments made by the head of the German MoD Boris Pistorius, stressing and emphasizing the Russian threat, and exercise scenarios assuming that NATO territory would be threatened in 2025.

So far no information has been published on talks, regarding the permanent, or rotational deployment of German units to Poland. The information published by the Australian media (news.com.au) repurposed by PAP had a very general profile and focused mainly on the threat posed by Russia. The potential presence of German units in Poland was one of many topics covered, and undoubtedly, it was not the key matter in that content piece.

On the other hand, solutions involving German military presence in Poland were suggested by the former German ambassador to Poland, in his statements for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. We shall emphasize, that the above referred to a longer timeline. Greater integration between the Polish and German Armed Forces was seen as a step in that direction. No official information was released within that scope, no steps are mentioned that the German authorities should take: a relevant increase in the number of troops, and establishment of positions needed to form new units.

Let us add that Germany is currently focused on forming a new brigade stationed in Lithuania, and that brigade is being partially created by a transfer of existing units. So far, no additional procurement of equipment followed. And there are numerous challenges involved in the said process. The critics claim that Germans will form the new unit but at the cost of degrading other elements of the Bundeswehr’s land component. That alone means that the potential permanent, or continuous deployment of land units to Poland is less than probable. This is not a priority for any of the nations, given the situation in the Armed Forces, availability of infrastructure, personnel, equipment, and so on. Even if the employment of large German units in Poland is a plan of NATO defensive plans, they may be deployed ad hoc, should the threat emerge. Poland is also focused on developing its land component, and in a few years, the Polish Land Forces should be stronger than their German counterpart, also technologically (with numerous capability gaps, including IFVs that would emerge in large numbers much later than modern main battle tanks, or artillery systems).

There are some areas, however, where the enhanced presence of the German military could be a realistic reinforcement for the Polish Armed Forces. Provided that the Germans also decide to reinforce their capabilities, also quantitatively. Combat aviation is a good example here, this specifically refers to EW aircraft. The Germans decided to modify 15 Eurofighter jets to fill that role and replace the legacy Tornado ECR fleet. The latter were rated highly, but they are approaching the end of their lifecycles, also becoming more troublesome maintenance-wise.

If the Germans decided, jointly with Poland, to increase the number of EW Eurofighter jets, and deploy some of them continuously (a squadron for instance) to Poland, this would translate into a relevant enhancement of the eastern flank operational capabilities. But here, funds and mutual intent are needed. Let us add that the Germans do not suffer from recruitment problems in the air force, that are so serious as in other branches of the military, due to the service profile. However, this does not mean that Poland should resign from obtaining its own EW/SEAD capabilities. The latter would be recovered along with the F-35A procurement. Poland also plans to acquire the AARGM-ER missile for that platform.

Nonetheless, the presence of specialized EW/SEAD platforms, alongside the F-35s, would be desirable, also within the scope of gathering intelligence for signature bases and mapping the operational theatre, and so on. Any base in Poland makes it easier to „listen” to the Russian assets in Kaliningrad for ELINT platforms. It would also be at least weird if both nations did not work together when it comes to the operational employment of the F-35. Not only do the Germans want to use the fifth generation aircraft in a nuclear sharing role, but deep strike capability is also considered here. The Luftwaffe procured the StormBreaker bombs, and AGM-158B JASSM-ER missiles for that purpose. Poland acquired the JASSM-ER missiles for the F-16 back in 2016.

Poland is also considering procurement of an air-superiority platform (with F-15 and Eurofighter listed as potential candidates). Finances and availability of personnel (air crews and ground crews), and infrastructure, may be an obstacle here, as the Polish Air Force is introducing FA-50PL and F-35 already. Even if an air superiority platform is indeed procured, a specialized EW platform (such as the US-made Growler, or Eurofighter-EK) would be a valuable complementary asset here. Here, the German potential may be valuable, provided that a sufficient number of platforms as such is available. Experience in the employment of such aircraft is not built overnight - and the Luftwaffe possesses such experience already.

chinook Niemiecki
German CH-47F Block II Chinook.
Photo. Boeing

Rotary-wing aviation is another area where Poland and Germany could work together when it comes to the deployment of German assets to Polish bases. If one has a closer look at modernization programmes pursued by Germany and Poland in this area, they are complementary. Germany recently procured 60 CH-47F Chinook heavy transport helicopters (via FMS, but with industrial cooperation), and light H145M platforms (62 in total mentioned by the performance contract, 84 in the framework agreement; 24 out of 62 would come in a close support variant). The attack helicopter role is assigned to Tigers, with dubious availability and reliability. However, the claim that Tigers would be fully replaced by H145M is not true.

Poland, on the other hand, is planning to procure Apache, Black Hawk, and AW101 helicopters, along with a training platform, where the H145M is one of the potential candidates. Procurement of Chinooks has been considered as well, but no relevant decision has been made regarding that matter. It is not a secret that even a small number of such aircraft would be a major enhancement of the Polish logistical chain in the air mobile units, both when it comes to the operation of the Apache helicopters (parts and material transport), as well as transport of the Air Cavalry elements.

Even though the presence of large HEER units in Poland is not feasible, and also not needed, there are some areas in which tightened cooperation would be desirable. There is no need to establish bases for thousands of soldiers, but the German presence may become a force multiplier here. EW aircraft and heavy transport helicopters are included among domains within which Poland is not expanding its capabilities, despite spending more (proportionally to the GDP) on defence than Germany. Germany does that, given the specific nature of its Armed Forces. However, mutual political intent is needed here, while Berlin should increase its defence spending levels for that to happen. As of now, nothing suggests that this scenario may become a reality.

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