Poland Starts with Ammunition Funding Increase. Beginning of the Journey [OPINION PIECE]

Krab howitzer during the Anakonda 2023 exercise. Ustka range.
Krab howitzer during the Anakonda 2023 exercise. Ustka range.
Photo. Przemysław/KPRP

The decision to allocate several billion PLN to procurement made at the Polish industry and to the establishment of munitions manufacturing potential creates a chance to reinforce the combat potential of the Polish Armed Forces and the domestic defence industry as well. To make good use of these opportunities, not only would it be required to multiply the current munitions manufacturing capacity, but several steps need to be taken toward the development of modern munitions and managing the logistics associated with the use of those assets.


200 thousand 155 mm artillery rounds are to be delivered, per annum, by the Polish Armaments Group. The orders placed so far, since the start of the full-scale war in Ukraine, have been ten-fold smaller. The expansion of capabilities is to be ensured by the National Ammunition Reserve Programme. Before the Polish industry can attain the required capabilities, procurement is being made abroad.


The war in Ukraine has shown how important the manufacturing capacity and reserve stockpile are when it comes to munitions. The depletion exceeded the pre-war estimates. Furthermore, the long-term profile of the conflict also had a major impact on that. After the end of the Cold War, 30 Days Of Supply was considered to be a norm in the NATO states (30 DOS)

In practical terms, especially when it comes to the modern munition types, that requirement has not been met. The analysis concerning the first months of the war in Ukraine has led to a gradual growth of demand for munitions among the NATO member states. And there are some reasons for that. First, the estimates regarding the number of munitions needed for the given conflict period (30 days mentioned above) would be much higher than they had been before the war broke out. Secondly, the current assumption is that a long-term conflict may be a possibility, pushing the demand even higher.


Thirdly, the NATO member states have been transferring a large portion of their munitions stockpile to Ukraine. One can no longer rely on the assets procured and stored during the periods when procurement was on the rise (the Cold War). All of the reasons above lead to increased demand for munitions. Especially when it comes to the artillery - as these munitions are used most frequently in Ukraine. During the Defence24 DAY event General Jaroslaw Gromadziński said that before the Kherson operation, there was a need to deliver around 10 thousand 155 mm rounds per day. During the operation, the aforesaid number went up to 20 thousand rounds.

We are dealing with a common "munitions hunger" in Europe and in the US. The Polish defence industry, and the military, are both trying to respond to that phenomenon. One should recall the process in which the 155 mm munitions (for Krab or K9) were Polonized. The license agreement with a Slovakian partner was signed in 2010, and it concerned two types of ammo - standard one, with a range of 32 km, and base-bleed rounds, with a range exceeding 40 kilometers. The first license manufactured batch of 2 thousand rounds was procured at DEZAMET in 2014, and delivered in 2015. The munitions are manufactured in cooperation with Nitro-Chem and Mesko.

The second contract on polonized munitions was signed in 2016. It concerned 11 thousand rounds after the annex was signed (6 thousand was the original quantity). The deliveries were finalized in 2019. In December 2019 a bigger contract, concerning 24 thousand rounds of ammunition was signed, with delivery expected until 2022. The deal had a value of PLN 420 million, whereas that amount also included the polonization of the shell base and body. The scale of those contracts shows that until recently several thousand rounds of ammunition were contracted per year, according to the demand expressed by the Polish Ministry of Defence. On one hand, it was tied to the policy tied to the calculation of the munitions needs, and the provisions of the Technical Modernization Plan. On the other, there was a relatively small number of Krab howitzers in service at the time - around 80 guns in late 2021.

In 2022, following the start of the full-scale war in Ukraine, within the framework of urgent reinforcement of the potential within the Polish Armed Forces, a decision was made to make a major munitions procurement abroad. On one hand, that procurement was tied to the K9 howitzer contracts (munition packages were also a part of the K2 and Abrams deals), on the other, a framework agreement on munitions procurement was used to order munitions in Germany. Most probably the above refers to the V-LAP munitions with a range exceeding 50 kilometers, and also exceeding the range of the Slovak rounds license-manufactured in Poland. Let us add that this type of munition, with rocket propulsion and base bleed, is usually much more costly than standard rounds which is confirmed by the US budgetary documents for instance.

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And how the matters are shaped from the point of view of the Polish industry? Since 2021 the leadership of the rockets-munitions group, gathering companies responsible for the manufacturing of munitions within PGZ, has been expanding its large caliber munitions manufacturing capacity. Currently, it has been declared, during Defence24 DAY, that Poland can manufacture 30-40 thousand rounds per year. This is more than in the past, but still, the capacity seems insufficient to address the growing demand. And that demand is tied to the expansion of the Polish Armed Forces, a greater number of howitzers, and also the fact that some munitions were transferred to Ukraine. The Polish 155 mm ammunition is used in that conflict. There is an urgent demand to replenish the stockpile.

Ultimately, 200 thousand rounds of ammunition are expected to be manufactured per year. Some of those rounds are to be exported. The National Munitions Reserve programme is aimed to achieve this increase in capabilities. From the point of view of the Polish Ministry of Defence, the National Munitions Reserve and its inception would be handled by the Armament Agency. The initiative would be implemented based on a framework agreement signed recently with the PGZ-Amunicja consortium. The agreement term reaches out to 2029 and concerns several hundred thousand rounds. Governmental Strategic Reserves Agency can also carry out munitions procurement.

Noteworthy, not only does the National Munitions Reserve include means needed for procurement, but also extra capital for the defence industry entities. On the record, the PM’s Office states that “the goal of the programme is to expand and diversify the production base for large caliber munitions, and to replenish the stockpile reserves, adequately to the increased demand, tied to the expansion of the Polish Armed Forces potential”.

K9PL chunmoo hanwha
155 mm armatohaubice samobieżne K9A1 w trakcie prowadzenia ognia.
Photo. Robert Suchy

The resolution regarding the National Munitions Reserve was signed in March, and along with the action plan accepted by the committee are both confidential, as the media department of the PM's Office recalls. Details on the programme cannot be publicly shared. The public statement made by PM Morawiecki back in March suggests that the above refers to 12 billion zlotys allocated to the procurement of 800 thousand rounds of ammunition and another 2 billion allocated to investment and capitalization of businesses. Investment support and diversification of the production base are to be handled by the Polish Development Fund. The whole programme is scheduled to last until 2029.

The PGZ Group will probably be driven to obtain most of the financing, but privately owned businesses can also try to get it. Ultimately, all of the Polish large calibre munitions are to be manufactured domestically. Privately owned businesses also want to offer ammunition to the Armed Forces - such as the MILITUS-PL company that, last year, unveiled its thermobaric shells offer for the artillery. Niewiadów Group made declarations, publicly, that it remains interested in obtaining funds from the National Munitions Programme.

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Government officials declared that the munitions procurement initiative is to proceed at a rapid pace. This is not a surprise, given the necessity to rapidly replenish the munitions stockpile (as the war in Ukraine dictates), but also given the fact that a large number of artillery assets would be commissioned in the Polish Armed Forces soon, using NATO-compliant calibres 0 155 mm artillery, MBTs with 120 mm guns. ASAP initiative of the EU may also be used to support the munitions manufacturing efforts.

One should, however, examine a couple of matters here. First, the capabilities expansion programme, and the procurement of munitions, will both need to proceed at a rapid pace. Secondly, manufacturing that large munitions stockpile also requires a storage system to be established, along with a supply chain. Each artillery squadron operates munitions transporters, but we are speaking of stockpiles much larger than standard quantities assigned to artillery units. Ammunition storage and transport need to be secure and protected from the activities undertaken by the enemy - for instance by scattering the storage facilities.

ZM Dezamet maintains that the polonization levels for the 155 mm rounds would be achieved this year, as per the programme's assumption - that achievement would also be subject to relevant certification. The certificates, for now, cover the fuse, assembly, and explosive lining. After fully obtaining the know-how required to manufacture both rounds, it will play a major role in the company's manufacturing plans, and in the activities undertaken by the cooperating PGZ Group entities - Nitro-Chem, Pionki, and Kraśnik Mesko factories.

Thirdly, a question emerges on what should be done when the storage facilities are full. It may turn out, after a few or several years, that the expanded manufacturing capacity may become useless. The munitions would still be manufactured, for instance with the training in mind, however, one should consider a scenario in which the most urgent needs are met.

And at least several solutions may emerge here. One should think about subsidies, to maintain the production lines, within the framework of the Economy Mobilization Programme. The current system is far from perfect. It is also far more important to seek options tied to income diversification - this refers to export prospects for manufactured munitions.

And this also requires an offer to be prepared, at a sufficiently high level, technology-wise. This is also important for the Polish Armed Forces. Now, above all, baseline munitions are being delivered (conventional HE rounds, and BB rounds). When funds so large are available (several billion zlotys), it is worth thinking about expanding the offer.

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One of the possible directions of development includes laser-guided APR rounds, prepared by the Polish industry for the K9/Krab howitzers, or the Rak mortars. These munitions should be a part of the National Munitions Programme as well.

There are also different directions for the development of munitions that could (or even should) be implemented alongside the laser-guided PGMs. The capabilities of unguided munitions can also be expanded. Not just by being driven to increase range or lethality, but also by improving the safety of operation.

That relates to the use of insensitive explosives that are much safer when the munitions are hit. The initial efforts have already been undertaken by Poland, as the K-43 HE round for the 120 mm Rak mortar is to meet the insensitive munitions standards. Similar solutions could also be considered for the 155 mm rounds. The experience gathered in Ukraine shows, or confirms, how great danger is posed by exploding munitions for the crews and equipment. The use of insensitive explosives is one of the possible directions where capabilities expansion may happen. Some steps have already been made in that direction.

Another area is the increase of firepower by using rounds different than HE ones. One of the directions of research here, undertaken already by state and private industry, is to create thermobaric warheads, first for the 122 mm rockets, then for 155 mm howitzers. Munitions like that have been proven useful in Ukraine. One should add that the munitions programme itself should be expanded and also include the aforesaid 122 mm rockets. Not just the Langusta systems, but also the Korean K239 Chunmoo would be making use of these. Some of those launchers would be placed at the brigade level, and 122 mm rockets would be entirely sufficient to act against surface targets at a shorter distance. No necessity would emerge to use guided, large-caliber rockets here.

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Another direction that should be examined, considering the breadth of the undertaken investment programme, is the expansion of domestic capabilities in the domain of cluster munitions. This would be difficult, as both technical, as well as political, and financial obstacles may emerge here. The cluster munitions (shaped charge/frag), several submunitions per a single 155/122 mm artillery round, are a very lethal measure for acting against mechanized units supported by the infantry, and surface targets, such as storage facilities, SAM sites, and so on. During the Cold War, cluster munitions were a key element of the NATO defensive inventory - the first variant of the M270 MLRS rockets had cluster warheads. The same applies to artillery.

Most of the European NATO member states, as well as many African or South American nations, have signed the cluster munitions ban convention in Oslo. This is motivated by the fact that the unexploded cluster munitions may pose a great risk for civilians, while the cluster munitions per se are viewed as a Cold War relic, prepared for conflicts that would not happen in the 21st Century. The Convention was not signed, however, by the USA, India, China, Belarus, Israel, Poland, Greece, Turkey, Estonia, or Finland. The presence of that convention in the legal framework on the international level also means that political pressure on withholding the manufacturing of cluster munitions may emerge. Financial institutions are also reluctant to support such efforts - as pressure comes from the NGOs here.

Wieloprowadnicowa wyrzutnia rakietowa WR-40 Langusta z 16.Dywizji Zmechanizowanej.
Wieloprowadnicowa wyrzutnia rakietowa WR-40 Langusta z 16.Dywizji Zmechanizowanej.
Photo. Jarosław Ciślak/

Poland, even though it did not sign the Oslo convention, was forced to suspend the manufacturing of cluster warheads for the Langusta system, as France refused to deliver components for the 122 mm rockets. Production of other types of cluster munitions was also brought to a halt. Let us add that the Polish Hesyt cluster munitions were a high-performance product, both when it comes to its armour-piercing capacity, as well as safety (low quantity of unexploded munitions). Restarting the production of these, maybe modified munitions (initially these warheads were designed for 122 mm rocket systems, 122 mm howitzers, and 98 mm mortars, and now it would be expected for them to be tailored to 155 mm artillery shells and 122 mm rockets) is of key importance when it comes to making full use of the capabilities of the Polish artillery.

Let us add, a single cluster warhead round is much more effective in attacking surface targets than a classic HE round. Hence, there is something to fight for. Even if challenges emerge along the way. The work on cluster munitions is critical, as for many reasons it would be difficult to procure them abroad (a bigger procurement challenge emerges here than in the case of the PGMs), and yet the combat capabilities of such munitions are significant. Ukraine has been asking allies to supply cluster munitions for quite some time now. Most of the European nations have no munitions as such at hand, while the White House has not decided to do that due to the protests made by the State Department. Many members of the military, however, positively address Kyiv's requests.

There are also different trends in developing more precise 155 mm rounds of greater range. The leaders in the field, such as Germany, the USA, and South Korea, already operate rounds with a range of more than 50 kilometers (base bleed plus rocket propulsion), while researchers hope to create rounds that would be able to reach ranges of more than 100 kilometers. Work as such, regarding rounds with ramjets, have been undertaken by Boeing and Nammo, with a declared range of 150 kilometres. It is worth getting the Polish companies involved in that undertaking as well - to a relevant extent. Analytical effort within that scope is currently being undertaken. As in the case of other areas, financial involvement in establishing manufacturing capacity and modernizing it is also a critical matter.

A decision to launch the National Munitions Reserve programme is just the first step towards establishing an industrial base for manufacturing modern munitions in Poland, in large quantities, and towards creating a stockpile that may turn out to be useful in a crisis. Further decisions should be made here as well. Making an investment aimed at manufacturing thousands of munitions, one needs to make sure these assets are modern, and allow the user to fully utilize the potential of the modern artillery pieces that Poland is purchasing for billions. One should also take care of logistics and make plans concerning the manufacturing potential when the baseline needs Poland has are met.