NATO Summit in Vilnius to Bring in "Colossal Changes". General Piotrowski: We can't let ourselves get stuck in procedures
"We can't let ourselves get stuck in procedures, there's simply no time for that (...) We should, as a society, adopt an approach that would provide us with resources adequate to face the dynamically growing levels of threat", stresses General Tomasz Piotrowski, Operational Commander of the Polish Armed Forces, in his interview with Defence24.pl. General also mentions the experience gathered during the war in Ukraine, the enhanced Allied presence in Poland, the development of the Polish Armed Forces for multi-domain operations, and the steps taken to prepare to the NATO summit in Vilnius, and the Anakonda 2023 exercise.
Jędrzej Graf: Last year we have been witnessing giant changes in both European, as well as global security architecture. For the Operational Command, the year also meant high levels of engagement, and cooperation with the Allies, also in the air defence area, but also when it comes to the border protection efforts. What the first experiences and lessons learned are?
Lt. General Tomasz Piotrowski, Operational Commander of the Polish Armed Forces: There are plenty of lessons. 2021 and 2022 have been marked with a huge number of changes in the security architecture. Not just in Poland, but also in the region, and globally. We see, for instance, how North Korea is tightening its cooperation with Russia which remains aggressive towards Ukraine. Reports suggest that the Police there is to support "stabilization" in the region of the Donbas republics occupied by Russia. This shows how quick and dynamic the world is to evolve. Between 2021 and 2022 many factors emerged that previously have been difficult, or almost impossible to predict.
In early 2021 nothing was suggesting that we would be helping the Border Guard within the scope that has been in place since mid-2021, throughout 2022, until today. The national security system needs to be ready to react to unpredicted threats. The situation on the border that I have mentioned shows how important the internal order of the responsibility for security is. The principles of cooperation and systems used to exchange information need to be well-adjusted, long before the emergence of any crises.
Leadership, good interpersonal relations and trust, and preparation to act in a coordinated manner are key here. That factor would be necessary for us to efficiently act as a host nation for our allies. We have been implementing a reinforcement as such in 2021, helping the Border Guard, but also in 2022 and 2023. Our experience shows that a coherent internal environment, good relations, and a well-prepared information exchange system, also when it comes to confidential information, remain highly relevant. Another matter relates to the proper preparation of the legal framework, allowing us to work efficiently. Recently, an undertaking was going on, run by the Presidential Office, and the Council of Ministers, when conclusions were reached on the enhancement of the mechanisms allowing for smooth reception of Allied forces.
These are key elements, both within the Armed Forces, and within the state as a whole, as it is the state that is the key actor in defensive operations. And when it comes to the Armed Forces per se, what is relevant when it comes to the capability to react in circumstances so challenging?
The Polish Armed Forces need to be driven towards owning a multi-layered reconnaissance system, including operations involving satellites, air reconnaissance layers, land sensors, and cyber or SIGINT/ELINT systems. Cyber and EM reconnaissance need to be continuous, regardless of readiness levels. Regardless of whether we are facing peacetime or war. These are the most relevant elements that we need to adopt and expand. That remains undisputed.
Establishing national reconnaissance capabilities is of key importance. We also need to remember that this year we are going to go through a very relevant moment for Poland - the NATO Summit in Vilnius. It is expected that political approval of the specific scope of NATO plans would happen during that summit. It is not a secret: Poland would play a key role in Eastern Europe. This stems directly from security circumstances.
For us, these changes would be colossal. We need to be properly prepared for that, and thus we are gathering lessons. When it comes to military operations, it remains highly important to establish relevant capabilities to strike at the depth required to secure the national interest of Poland. I would like to stress the fact that we are speaking of a capability to reach the enemy, not only with the use of kinetic fires, but deep enough to ensure Polish security.
Starting in 2021, a lot of force has been sent to the Eastern border, and last year, readiness levels have been brought upward, for some military units. Furthermore, a lot of equipment has also been sent to Ukraine. What impact did it all have on the ongoing activities undertaken by the Operational Command, the daily training?
The scope of involvement in helping the Border Guard clearly shows that we, as the Polish Armed Forces, need to adopt flexible mechanisms allowing us to obtain and recover readiness for operations in accordance with our stated purpose by the majority of the forces in a situation, when substantial parts of them are deployed to work on crises - at the border for instance. It is not a secret that the troops working in the east, far from their garrisons, do not have all elements of their kits, required to maintain combat readiness.
There is a necessity to adapt proper mechanisms and make them flexible enough for them to make it feasible. Another relevant matter pertains to a proper dislocation of force and assets. The forces should be stationed in a manner that would make it easier to deploy them where needed. Undoubtedly, we need to work in this area as well. That may be related to a change of permanent basing sites for some units, as the needs dictate, stemming from the threats and response directions. And here I am not mentioning just the Land Forces.
Another relevant element is the establishment of proper infrastructure that would support efficient mobility, along with proper regulations that would follow. When it comes to the second part of the question, we have donated a majority of the equipment, but some equipment is commissioned into service, as it was procured in line with the plans and defined needs. Here, we need to shorten the time that soldiers would need to get ready to use those systems, to a maximum extent acceptable by the manufacturer, and allowing for getting ready to use the equipment in line with its purpose.
And as our experience at the Operational Command shows, we cannot employ a policy of seeking the best solution in the world, compliant with a long list of theoretical requirements. Systems as such simply do not exist sometimes. We need to adopt an assumption that we buy what's good enough to accomplish our tasks. And yet again, I am mentioning multiple domains here, not just the equipment for the land forces, but the remaining domains as well.
In Poland, we are continuously engaged in a debate around the quantity vs. quality dilemma. Voices emerge, suggesting that it is impossible to build an army with a certain set of capabilities, in parallel with a radical increase in the number of troops, up to 300,000. How would you address this, also taking into account the economics, the lifecycle cost - that would go upwards?
First, I should say that the Operational Commander of the Armed Forces is not a good interlocutor for discussion as such, as other entities are tasked with planning the roadmap for the development of the Armed Forces, within the structure of the Armed Forces, and the Polish Ministry of Defence. Looking at that matter through the lens of my responsibilities, I am fully aware that we need to find a common-sense-driven balance, where possibilities and budgetary limitations exist. I cannot ask for capabilities that, realistically, cannot be obtained. We do know what the 3% GDP defence spending level means for the Armed Forces, we know the budgetary forecast for the upcoming years, and we do take these matters into the account at the Operational Command.
From my point of view, it remains very important to have enough operational assets and forces, to adequately respond to threats, and these emerge in a spontaneous, sudden manner. We see this all around, within many aspects, be it economic or military. We should, as a society, adopt an approach that would provide us with resources adequate to face the dynamically growing levels of threat. We cannot be rigidly tied by some assumptions, such as for instance, if we have 3% of the GDP at our disposal, this money would make it challenging to equip and create a 300,000-man-strong army.
What assumptions should be adopted by us then?
In my opinion, we should follow a way of thinking that would assume that if we want to create a system ensuring a specific level of security, then assets should be allocated as needed, to establish a capability to defend ourselves from current and future threats. It is difficult for me to answer the question regarding the possibilities of expansion of the Armed Forces directly.
I do think, however, that we, as a society, should pay much more attention to ensuring security, directing the finances and human efforts there, and only then should we wonder whether 3% of GDP would be enough here. If assess that there are serious threats, then we also need to establish a set of capabilities required to effectively counter them and defend the state, even if that entails spending higher than we assumed.
I want to stress the fact that everything that we are facing daily is based on security. If there's no security, there's no social development, good functioning of the economy, or good neighbourhood. I am strongly encouraging everybody to think in categories of effective provision of security, and then, adoption of financial means and the armed forces. Obviously, in democracies decisions as such are made at the level of politics. The members of the military cannot dispute these. If Poland makes decisions on a specific military expansion, we, as the members of the military, would follow and implement them. However, what we, as members of the military need to address is how much and what effort should be put into making those decisions tangible.
We have been mentioning the necessity for the Polish Armed Forces to be able to rapidly adapt and modernize. Procurement is a part of this effort. The procurement now is done in a manner that allows for fast deliveries, but we are introducing two types of main battle tanks at once, in different variants. Isn't that a threat to the logistics and training?
Proper mechanisms need to be created here. Before we cover that, from the user's perspective a single main battle tank type (or a single type of any other equipment) translates into simplicity, unified training systems, and a single logistical chain, we need to remember also, that it is just one supply chain that could be disrupted, or heavily burdened. Three years ago we have not been taking disruptions of the supply chain into the account, similar to the ones that we are experiencing now. These supply chains were to be efficient for decades. As I said before, as the Operational Commander, I am not responsible for planning the development of the Armed Forces. But I think that we, as the Polish Armed Forces, need to consider diversification, to be ready to face the disruptions of the supply chains.
On the other hand, it is very important to own an efficient system for handling the logistics and training for any equipment. From my point of view, we need to have well-prepared plans at hand, that would make it possible for us to know what capabilities and where would be employed by us to counter the threats. If we announce those plans transparently, especially internally, and we follow through in a long run, then the personnel and the infrastructure for the specific equipment type may be prepared in advance.
Transparency and coherence in planning will, undoubtedly, be helpful. The given soldier, knowing he would be using the specific equipment type in a few years, may begin his preparation - not just through formal training courses. The preparation of personnel is relevant here. That should also entail a proper logistical framework.
We should talk about threats for a second. We see that Russia is also learning from the war - we have witnessed an unsuccessful assault on Kyiv, then the Ukrainian counter-offensive action near Kharkiv and Kherson, Russian mobilization, and preparatory steps ahead of offensive action. In what way is Moscow expanding its capabilities, and what the conclusions are?
This is a question that addresses multiple threads. First, what I can say as the Operational Commander is that a scenario of aggressive actions adopted by Russia in Ukraine will most probably not be repeated in the case of Poland. This is indisputable - an entirely different set of tools would be used against Poland, with a different objective - as all signs seem to suggest now.
For me, what is happening right now shows that when we speak of the threats for Poland, the Russians would be following through with all elements of new-generation warfare, employing a whole plethora of tools. If Russia decides to continue its operations against the West, we may assume that aggression against Poland may primarily be non-kinetic, and Russian and Belarusian Armed Forces would be the last and decisive element used in such a scenario.
We cannot perceive an armed conflict through the lens of a military clash only. Right now we should be wondering what tools have already been, or can be used against us. We need to dissect this and wonder what instruments of power could be used by Moscow, to discredit us in the international arena and cut us out from a good relationship with our closest neighbours. This is where I would seek threats for Poland first, and only in the end would I wonder about the elements of the Russian military force that could be used against Poland. I do think that the war threat for Poland, posed by the Russian Federation, shall not be perceived through the lens of the military strike alone.
So, within that context, are the regulations and legislation remaining in force in Poland adequate to address such non-kinetic, hybrid threats? To what extent should those regulations be changed?
I would not like to use a simple statement here, whether they are adequate or not. First, I have no comprehensive knowledge to do that, and secondly, a simple statement like that could be harmful to many people and organs doing good jobs on a daily basis. But responding to your question about whether we need to tailor these for efficient threat response, I can say - yes, this is beyond discussion. And we will probably need to adapt these permanently.
We need to remember that the enemy, namely Russia, specializes in working in the gray areas. The Russians have mastered the art of finding gaps in the national security systems and using them. Not only do I refer to legal gaps here, but more broadly, to weaknesses of the whole state that Moscow then uses to pursue interests of its own.
Our legislation must be based on simplicity, it cannot be convoluted and complicated. The convoluted nature of legislative processes and decision-making is time-consuming and requires many arrangements. And in an environment that changes so dynamically, we absolutely cannot afford to lose time, as the given action that goes through the legislative processing may turn out to be inadequate in a few days, as the circumstances may change.
Can you exemplify that?
A good example of an area where rapid decision-making is a must is the presence of the Allied Forces. This is a very dynamic process. On one hand, we have the Ramstein Group meetings and aid for Ukraine, on the other - actions within the scope of mutually securing collective security. When political declarations and decisions are made, social expectations emerge, suggesting that specific Allied elements appear in Poland, not in a few months, once we go through a complex administrative, and bureaucratic process, but over a much shorter period.
Another relevant element, alongside the simple, not-complicated solutions, is placing an emphasis on mutual trust and leadership. When in a dynamic environment we come to a conclusion that some actions need to be taken, then preparatory steps preceding these need to be taking place in parallel to the paperwork. We can't let ourselves get stuck in procedures, there's simply no time for that.
We need to de-bureaucratize any processes, wherever possible. We also need to digitalize them, wherever possible. We have different forms of communication at hand, that do not require a person to read a paper document and sign it with a pen, these can be signed electronically and archived for future assessment. All these elements need to be, undoubtedly, taken into the account. Let me repeat: I do not want to make a clear assessment of regulations, as some rules are better, some are worse, and undoubtedly they will need to be adapted.
I would like to ask about interoperability but in the context of the Armed Forces. For quite some time now, the ongoing expansion of capabilities in the area of multi-domain battlespace has been mentioed, along with a proper operational concept. The US Army has been publishing further documents, or even social media content, where cooperation and synergy between different branches of the military are placed at the very top. Poland's situation is special - on one hand, Warsaw is working on a quantitative expansion of the Armed Forces, on the other, new systems are being commissioned, such as the F-35, Patriot, HIMARS, and Abrams MBTs. What are the challenges associated with the establishment of multi-domain capabilities?
Above all, the first challenge that we can speak of is tied strictly to the human factor. First, we have the mentality and the leadership. We need our commanders to get used to the fact that in a joint operational environment, no domain/domain-specific process owners exist. Everyone working in the given domain must be ready to face the fact that the capabilities at hand may be useful to achieve the final joint effect of the operation. He or she must consider what needs to be done to accomplish objectives defined through a fusion of domains.
Another component that I view as a challenge is the selection and preparation of proper equipment needed for operations as such. We need to answer a question on the objective that we are facing, the threats that we want to counter, what our goal is, and what stems from our strategy. And how we perceive that, as officers of high rank. Then, we choose the right tools and composition of tools to do that: the capabilities that we want to use to establish situational awareness and impact.
And it needs to be noted here - I speak about that in terms of stepping beyond just rocket shelling or bombing. We can also have an impact on things in non-material areas, such as cyberspace. We also need to be present in the space domain, which we do not experience daily. The next part comes in form of tools and platforms for integration. We need to remember that the number of tools cannot be infinite and that every domain: land, naval, air, cyber, and space in the future, has its own, specific tools. We cannot speak of separate "bubbles" with platforms of their own, and an expectation for them to be integrated, at a proper point in time.
At the time when we would be creating the integration environments, we need to know that we are dealing with a joint, multi-domain operation. This is the baseline, where every domain shall have its input. And here we are going back to square one - leadership and mentality. When we understand that and meet these conditions, we will be ready to pursue the state interest through multi-domain operations.
How the development of multi-domain capabilities may be fused with the expansion of the Armed Forces, currently underway? We are speaking of a new Division, and also changing the operations and officer training methods.
First thing is to have a military strategy written down, approved, and understood by the commanders. Secondly, one needs a multi-domain operations concept, understood and approved by the decision-makers, and commanders at different levels. Based on that, another element is the establishment of capabilities with proper priorities stemming from the response to threats - through procurement for instance.
We always need to remember that when the plan is made to deploy a specific capability, then a cadre is needed to use it - so we either need to have soldiers at hand who would ensure efficient commissioning and use of the given equipment type, armament, system, or reconnaissance asset, to train the personnel. And here, a proper framework mentioned earlier should be adopted, with doctrinal documents, which is relevant in the process of designating priorities and establishment of specific capabilities.
The establishment of situational awareness is also a relevant factor here. If we know what we are up against, and if we have our adversary well recognized, we will know what tools we need at any given moment.
We have been mentioning the 2022 experience a lot. I would like to ask about the plans for the next year. The Operational Command is organizing the Anakonda exercise. In parallel, the ongoing effort continues, and the NATO Summit in Vilnius is prepared in the background, with decisions on further reinforcement of the eastern flank expected. How does the exercise mentioned here fit, in the framework of the allied efforts?
Our plans are aligned with the NATO strategy. From the point of view of the Operational Command, gaining the initiative in the region would be especially important in 2023. It is not our assumption to adopt supremacy, or dictate things to others. We want to gain the leading position here. And that initiative would indirectly stem from Poland's role in NATO plans. Of course, I cannot mention any details, for reasons tied to confidentiality. The process in which those plans are prepared is continuously underway.
Certainly, however, Poland would be a very critical piece of the NATO operations in Eastern Europe, being a success factor in the potential defensive effort. We are going to need to create specific capabilities as the Polish Armed Forces, but also as a host nation, we will need to create conditions favouring specific operational activities of our allies. This is a major challenge for the operational command, responsible for the planning of the defensive operation. We are very much involved in that challenge, alongside the General Staff.
And the Operational Command absolutely cannot forget about security throughout the year 2023 - also when it comes to the ongoing operations conducted at the Belarusian, Ukrainian, and Russian borders. Securing the airspace is also a relevant element here. I think that not many people expected that scale of allied air defence and air assets presence during the war. The Operational Command has also been tasked with supporting the movement of personnel and equipment near the Ukrainian border. And it is still our task to command the Polish Military Contingents.
And where does the Anakonda 2023 exercise scenario fit here?
The Anakonda 2023 scenario would go along the very same lines of effort. That scenario would be based on a realistic set of circumstances, remembering that deterrence is a relevant element NATO wants to achieve in this region. Anakonda is to begin in April, with monitoring of interoperability when it comes to the movement of the allied and coalition forces in this part of Europe. It would last throughout May, June, September, until October.
During the exercise itself, numerous factors for coalition and allied cooperation would be involved, so Anakonda would fit well within all those processes. The exercise scenario, for both the field and command-staff portion, would be coherent with what is to be announced in July, during the summit in Vilnius. We do not have to wait for final approval, as we know the baseline assumptions and can create a very realistic exercise scenario. And this is how the Anakonda exercise is built, in 2023.
When it comes to air defences, German Patriot systems have recently been deployed to Poland. According to the declarations made by the Polish Ministry of Defence, these assets are to be subordinated to the Operational Command. How is that cooperation going?
Fortunately for me, and for Gen. Starzynski, the commander of the Air Component, who is a relevant participant and executory element of those processes, we have huge experience stemming from the prior arrival of the US Patriot systems, and the British Sky Sabre system. We also have gathered some experience from including our systems in the framework - more of those arrive daily and we are integrating further elements. There are many experiences gathered when it comes to working in coalition and allied environments, and our work with the German partners progresses very well now.
The whole process, from the decision made to deploy the systems, until full integration, is planned to be finalized in ca. 30 days. This is a really good result. A few years back I would not expect it to happen so quickly. The cooperation with our German colleagues has been really at a high level, with a lot of understanding involved. We are all driven to include what's needed and what's been declared as soon as possible, within the Polish system.
The process of reaching readiness is staged. Some elements of the combat unit have already reached the IOC, while others are at the stage of reaching technical readiness. They are first interconnected, which happens on a day-to-day basis, and the included in the Command of the Air Component. Once all those activities are finalized, the final readiness would be tested, and only then will I be able to claim that the system is fully ready. For now, technically, nothing suggests that we may expect issues of any nature. We are constantly gathering experience, using specialized equipment designed for the challenging work in the air defence domain. The German Patriot systems slightly differ from the US ones, while the US systems differ from the ones commissioned in Poland - thus we have new challenges and realizations, all the time. Each time, despite the system being a Patriot battery, until we conclude that it "sees and hears" what it should, we cannot say it is 100% ready.
The capabilities increase is gradual and incremental. It progresses at a very rapid pace. This is a major challenge for the Air Component Command, as many states patrol the Polish airspace, or deliver aid to Ukraine.
I do agree that there was a substantial increase in capabilities, I should even say it has been sudden. And this is an adequate response to the emerging threats. The involvement of the Air Component Command in the coordination of integration of the air defence systems, multi-role combat aircraft, patrol assets, and delivery of aid to Ukraine is a huge, almost unimaginable effort.
This has been proven by the visit of the former NATO AIRCOM commander, who is also the US Forces Europe commander at the same time. The former AIRCOM commander arrived at the Air Component Command to witness the scale of tasks, and the work at the combat operations room, where tools have been placed for coordination with the civil and military environments, and C2 assets as well. He admitted that he had no idea that a location of such potential exists in Poland, that so many tasks can be assigned to the Polish command, and that it could handle those. And that person has many years of experience, he knows the capabilities available in our region. Let me add that this visit happened when we did not have up to several flights a day, destined to land in eastern Poland.
The Air Component Command is doing a huge effort and operates very effectively. One can understand this only when visiting that command, looking into the combat operations room, and talking to people working there, on a broad spectrum of tasks implemented at that location.
In parallel, the Operational Command is also commanding the Polish military detachments, also in Latvia. We are doing this, despite the tense situation along the Polish border. What are the experiences, and the conclusions drawn?
To assess the PKW (Polish Military Contingent) operations, one needs to understand that it is a good thing we're there. It is a very good proving ground for the officers. I have been talking to the commanding officers of the Polish Contingent, and tank company commanders, with those companies being the key elements of the Polish contingent. We can see how those people gather experience, confidence, and a view of the purpose that has. So returning home from there, they have a new experience, and are wiser, having observed all of that.
Another aspect is the multinational operations capability. We are speaking of several nations involved in enhanced Forward Presence – eFP, led by the Canadians. The Adazi base is also a good example of logistics, and Host Nation Support. These matters are also very relevant to us. The talks with the Latvians allow us to understand the security environment better, including the factors emerging on the grounds of the Belorussian neighbourhood.
Another relevant element where more experience is gained is the structural expansion process. We all know that the battalion groups would grow to the brigade level. This is an important experience for the Contingent commanders, young officers, NCOs, and soldiers. We also need to fine-tune our logistics all the time.
And looking at those matters from a strategic point of view?
Building the allied credibility is a very important matter for us. Despite the situation at the Polish border, none of the Polish Contingents has been withdrawn. We are not moving out of Latvia, Romania, or any other place. Today 11 Polish Military Contingents remain active in total, in naval, air, and land domains. We maintain a continuous presence, taking care of the Polish security, and the security on the Eastern flank.
I would like to go back, for a second, to the matter of modernization. You have mentioned the necessity to diversify the supply sources. One of the new sources comes from South Korea. Joint defence manufacturing efforts have been planned. Is this a good direction, in your opinion? And from your point of view, as an operational commander, is it important to exchange experience with Korea, which has been in a state of war for several years now?
When it comes to the procurement of equipment from Korea, we need to seek how the center of gravity shifts when it comes to other aspects of the functioning of the states. One may be under an impression that Europe will not be a place where key processes would be taking place when it comes to new technologies, manufacturing, or securing different procurement processes. Here, the center of gravity has been shifted to Asia.
I view this as follows: it is good to acquire certain capabilities and have suppliers where the leading tech centers are located. We have major players in Europe that come close, but the cyber, innovation, and digitalization potential is focused, to a great extent, in Asia. From that point of view, the Korean direction is very much needed.
The Koreans have gathered a lot of experience, with several divisions, and a permanently aggressive adversary, whose conduct is difficult to predict - North Korea. As the Operational Commander I am focused on establishing a good relationship with my eastern flank colleagues, with NATO and EU nations, leading the way in supporting the Polish security processes. This is the main direction for me. On the other hand, I cannot rule out a scenario in the future, in which I talk to the representatives of South Korea, within the framework of experience exchange, as we, in Poland, are engaged in a dynamic process of enhancing the capabilities of the Polish Armed Forces.
Thank you for this conversation.