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Industry

MSPO 2023: More Piorun MANPADS to be Exported!

Photo. Maciej Szopa/Defence24

Skarżysko-Kamienna-based Mesko S.A. company announced two more contracts during MSPO, regarding the launch units and Piorun MANPADS.

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Two unspecified customers come from the Balkans and Baltics (probably Lithuania). The deliveries would be finalized between 2025 and 2027.

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The Piorun missile is becoming increasingly more desired, as Mesko S.A. has boosted its manufacturing efforts - the same goes for the subcontractors. Up until recently, Mesko declared a production ratio of 300 Grom and Piorun missiles per annum - but now, the manufacturer claims that up to 1,000 missiles could be manufactured in a year, and further growth in that area is expected.

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Throughout its history, the Skarżysko-Kamienna-based factory has manufactured thousands of anti-aircraft missiles. Initially, the facility was license-manufacturing the Soviet Strela-2M and Strela-1 missiles (in relatively small numbers). Towards the end of the Polish People's Republics, a license was obtained to manufacture the new Soviet Igla missiles. Never did Poland mass produce these, but domestic research and design efforts began aimed at developing an original MANPADS system, based on know-how gathered when license manufacturing was in full swing.

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Piorun
Photo. Mesko S.A.

As a result, the well-known Grom system was born - first, as Grom-I, and then, it came in the complete variant, with an expanded combat envelope, also making use of a completely domestic design. R&D efforts regarding Piorun, the Grom's replacement, began in 2010. Recently the company has unveiled Piorun NG - work on that, and further missiles are already underway.

The Polish Armed Forces remain the primary customer procuring these MANPADS. The export of such weapons entails several challenges and specific requirements. Weapons systems as such, due to the specific nature of their design, are prone to unauthorized use, should they be captured by adversaries or terrorists. Thus, all of the Grom systems exported, as well as all of the manufactured Piorun missiles, have been fitted with a separate safety system. To use these systems, apart from the launch unit, and the missile, one must also utilize a special launch authorization key. The key is stored separately. Should the enemy capture the launch mechanism, and the missile, they would still be unable to launch the missiles. The keys are handed out to the operators solely during training launches, and in combat.

As the weapon is "sensitive" in nature, neither the Polish Armed Forces, nor the manufacturer have shared the details on the numbers of missiles manufactured, owned, or launched. We do know that at least 2 missiles are assigned to one launch unit. On 20th December 2016, the Polish Ministry of Defence procured 420 launch units, and 1,300 Piorun missiles at Mesko, paying PLN 932 million (gross). In June 2022, an annexe to the original agreement was signed, extending the scope of that agreement by 600 launch units and 3,500 missiles, for PLN 3.5 bn. Some of the Piorun missiles that had been delivered to the Armed Forces in 2022 were transferred to Ukraine which became the best-known foreign user of the system. A small batch of Piorun MANPADS had also been ordered by the USA before the full-scale war began.

Earlier on, Poland had exported the Grom systems:

  • 99 missiles to Indonesia, in 2009 and 2016, for 18 ZUR-23-2KG AAA/SAM systems sold there in 2007;
  • around 30 launch units and 100 missiles to Georgia in 2007;
  • around 6 missiles to Japan, for test purposes, in 2010;
  • 139 examples to the US, between 2016 and 2019;
  • around 80 launch units and 220 missiles to Lithuania, 2014-2021.

In 2022 the Polish government decided to transfer an unspecified number of Piorun MANPADS to Ukraine, as a military aid package to stop the Russian aggression. This resulted in a lot of positive endorsements expressed publicly by the Ukrainian users. That was quite important, since Ukraine also received other systems as such, including the US-made Stingers, Swedish RBS 70, or the French Mistral. The Polish systems can neutralize threats at a distance ranging from 400 meters to 6.5 kilometres, flying at an altitude from 10 meters, to 4,000 meters, and also when artificial or natural interference is present. Optoelectronic targeting units can be used with them.

Photo. Dowództwo Generalne SZ

Any successful wartime use usually attracts a lot of attention to the given type of military equipment. Back in 2022, Mesko was awarded further contracts regarding the Piorun procurements, from:

  • the US;
  • Latvia;
  • Nrway, several hundred launch units and missiles, with a price tag of EUR 50 million;
  • Estonia, 100 launch units, 300 missiles.

The latest two contracts probably involve Lithuania, the sole Baltic state yet to order the Piorun missiles, and a Balkan state that is difficult to be defined. Probably we will learn more in the future - details about the contracts, and we will find out who the actual customers were

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