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Industry

WZM Poznań Getting Ready to Work on Abrams Maintenance

Abrams, Poznań, WZM
Abrams MBT in Poznań
Photo. WZM S.A.

PGZ’s WZM S.A. (Military Automotive Works) facility based in Poznań is getting ready to launch the first works, related to the adoption of the Abrams main battle tanks in the Polish Armed Forces. The establishment of a whole centre of competency and taking over responsibility for maintenance and overhauls of the main battle tanks, and upgrades in the future are planned. However, to implement this broad plan, state support and investments are needed.

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Within the framework of a memorandum signed on 26th June, by and between General Dynamics Land Systems (Abrams MBT manufacturer), and the PGZ Group, the Poznań-based WZM S.A. facility was designated as the entity where a centre of competencies would be established, working on supporting the Abrams platform. The renowned, Poznań-based company, known for comprehensively supporting and maintaining the Leopard 2A5 main battle tanks operated by the Polish Armed Forces, is willing to establish a broad potential for maintaining, overhauling, repairing, and modernizing the Abrams. The Polish Armed Forces are expected to operate 366 platforms as such, therefore having the domestic capability to support them throughout the lifecycle is a key asset.

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Notably, the potential associated with the Abrams main battle tanks is being established in parallel with the competencies required to maintain, and then license-manufacture the South Korean K2/K2PL main battle tanks. Capacity within the scope of maintaining the Leopard 2A5 main battle tanks (regarded highly by the user) is also being continuously developed. The same applies to the potential upgrades of this platform. Thanks to the experience and competencies at hand, the Poznań-based company has a good foundation needed to face these challenges. Poznań may become a centre of armour competency for all prospective main battle tanks operated by the Polish Armed Forces.

When it comes to the Abrams platform, the first practical steps have already been made, involving the American partner (General Dynamics Land Systems), with the involvement of the WZM's assets. WZM is ready to maintain the main battle tanks that would be delivered to Poland in the 4th quarter of 2023. The main battle tanks, once delivered to Poland via sea transport, and before being commissioned, would undergo the so-called deprocessing procedure - they would be checked and readied for commission. Potential faults would be rectified as well.

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Two halls have been tailored to accommodate the Abrams maintenance efforts. Procurement or specific systems required to perform those works is also underway - including a gantry crane of specific payload. Ultimately the Abrams MBTs are to be serviced within new grounds and infrastructure, also including new halls and a test track. WZM would need state support to establish this infrastructure and expand its facility - to have a solid foundation for long-term planning.

Photo. WZM S.A.

Abrams MBT in Poznań - Now and in the Future

How the establishment of the Polish Abrams centre may look like? First, the Abrams maintenance efforts would be covered within the framework of the FMS agreements signed upon procurement. The manufacturer, General Dynamics Land Systems, shall act as the contractor within that scope. The first steps in the domain of maintenance of those main battle tanks in Poznań, such as the aforesaid deprocessing, would be taken as a B2B collaboration with the US-based company. That B2B cooperation is progressing well, with a prospect of a major enhancement in sight.

From the WZM's standpoint, the most beneficial scenario would involve the designation of the Poznań-based company as the key maintenance contractor, once the FMS agreements signed when the main battle tanks were procured expire. That would create a long-term planning horizon and a better foundation for financing the investment with the use of external sources, such as the stock market - as a second pillar, alongside the extra capital for WZM. As a result of the above, the process aimed at establishing the relevant potential will be accelerated.

The Poznań-based company, as a centre of excellence, assumes that this potential would be used. Other PGZ Group entities would get involved, to secure the Abrams lifecycles, based on the domestically available capacity. For instance, the key elements of the Abrams power pack, the AGT1500 gas turbines, would be maintained at one of the PGZ's facilities handling aerospace parts. A similar solution was pursued in Australia a couple of years ago. TAE Aerospace took over the maintenance efforts regarding the AGT1500 turbines from the US Army, which resulted in shorter delivery times and lower costs. Other companies belonging to the PGZ Group would also be involved in those works, in line with their speciality.

WZM assumes that first, a broad spectrum of capabilities is to be established, needed to maintain, overhaul, and repair all of the Polish Abrams main battle tanks. WZM would hence become the key contractor within that scope, working for the Polish Armed Forces. This would translate into a high degree of independence and autonomy when it comes to comprehensive support for these main battle tanks. However, some operations would still be conducted with the US involvement. It is also expected that the Poznań-based company would be ready to modernize the M1A1 Abrams MBTs to the M1A2SEPv3 variant, to make the whole fleet homogeneous.

Modernization as such would be possible in Poznań once the Polish Abrams MBTs are no longer covered by the manufacturer's logistics support scheme, as per the agreement. A solution as such would also facilitate training, support and modernization of the whole Abrams fleet in the future, with involvement of the potential available at the facility in Poznań. If, for instance, the MoD decides to integrate an active protection system on the vehicles (or decides to pursue other upgrades), the relevant works could be performed in Poznań.

The Poznań-based facility is also engaged in talks on establishing the capabilities to manufacture main battle tank components that are subjected to wear and tear most often. This would be another step towards securing the lifecycles of MBTs. More funds allocated to Abrams support scheme would be used to reinforce the domestic economy - as it would happen in the case of the services rendered by WZM. Talks with the US partners pertain to a quite broad scope of components. Poland is the first European user of the Abrams MBT. Having the capacity to manufacture the components of this tank "on-site" is a major reinforcement of the supply chain and the support capacity - also in the event of a crisis.

Before the Abrams Comes

On the other hand, one should remember that it would take a few years to establish comprehensive capabilities for the Abrams MBTs. During that time, not only would it be required to seek and train new specialist personnel, but also it would be desirable to keep the human resources already in place active, along with the infrastructure. Thus, for the Poznań-based facility, the best-case scenario is to gradually transition from supporting the legacy platforms to the brand-new MBTs. And at least one domain exists, where beneficial orders may be placed, for the sake of the Armed Forces.

The above refers to overhauls and modifications of the BWR reconnaissance platform. The modifications are deep, as all of the key reconnaissance equipment would be replaced. BWR vehicles are not being formally upgraded, just modified. They would receive new electronics, including external and internal communication systems, battlefield radars, and modern surveillance systems. Agreement on the modification of 18 vehicles is scheduled to be finalized this year. 5 had already been modified. The BWR platform has a good reputation among the soldiers.

The Polish Army still operates 15 legacy BWR vehicles, with obsolete equipment that would no longer be supported or maintained. It would be desirable to modify them, from the Army's standpoint. Commissioning of the new Borsuk and Rosomak vehicles with the ZSSW turrets is underway, but the reconnaissance variants are yet to be developed. In other words, the modified BWR platforms remain the sole modern reconnaissance vehicles in the inventory of the Polish Armed Forces for now. Apart from the above, the elements of the Army use the standard Rosomak vehicles, and the legacy BWP-1 and BRDM platforms. The introduction and homogenization of the modified BWRs would translate into a major reinforcement of the reconnaissance elements. The procured modification would also bring a benefit for WZM, as it would allow the facility to use the existing potential, before more orders are placed concerning the new generation systems, such as the Abrams MBT. No gap in orders would occur.

In the longer run, the Poznań Centre of Excellence will be able to work both for the Polish Armed Forces, and the remainder of the European Abrams main battle tank user group. This group would soon include Ukraine and Romania. Other states may also decide to procure the Abrams MBT soon. If an agreement with the US partner is reached, Poznań will also be able to support the US Army's main battle tanks in Europe. More than 300 are stationed here. Once the storage facility in Powidz is established, SEPv3 Abrams MBTs would be deployed there as a part of the Army Prepositioned Stock.

Establishing a centre of excellence for the Abrams main battle tanks is a major opportunity both for the Poznań facility and for the Polish defence industry as a whole. The undertaking may be pursued in parallel to the preparatory steps taken to maintain and manufacture the K2 main battle tanks. Thanks to the above Poland would establish comprehensive lifecycle support capabilities for all of the new generation main battle tanks that are or will be operated by the Polish Armed Forces.

That would secure the main battle tanks' lifecycles, but also provide a lot of funds for the defence industry and the economy as a whole. Most of the cost is associated with the lifecycles, not the procurement. To rapidly establish these capabilities decisions are needed, allowing one to create a proper planning horizon. The expected ROI would be major - not just within the scope of state defence resilience and readiness, but also within the scope of the pure economy. In the longer run, major export income may also be expected.

Sponsored Article WZM S.A. is the partner of this publication.

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