Polish MoD Takes a Step Towards Narew SHORAD. Billions at Stake for the PGZ Group [COMMENTARY]

Image Credit: Defence24.pl.
Image Credit: Defence24.pl.

The Narew programme is entering a decisive phase. It is a key undertaking, for the whole of the Polish Armed Forces. With key operational capabilities of the Polish military and billions of zlotys at stake, the sheer determination would bear the key importance in this programme. There are still numerous questions that have been left unanswered when it comes to the system configuration.

Head of the Polish MoD, Mariusz Błaszczak announced, during his visit to Sochaczew, that conclusion documents covering the analytical-conceptual phase of the Narew SHORAD programme have been signed. The above means that Narew would now make a transition to the implementation phase. At this stage negotiation with the contractor would take place, followed by the conclusion of the agreement, and, finally, the launch of the deliveries. - I have approved the conclusions drawn from the analytical-conceptual phase pertaining to the acquisition of military equipment for the Polish Armed Forces, within the Narew programme, with that equipment intended to fill the gap tied to the protection of the Polish skies. The contract would be implemented by the PGZ Group. I have discussed this matter with President Chwałek multiple times. There are two, primary priorities for the PGZ’s President: the Miecznik programme, which I would not discuss in detail here, and Narew, the Minister said.

This is an important step for the implementation of the aforesaid programme. The analysis that was aimed at defining the shape of the project has been going on at least since 2014 when the technical dialogue was launched. The information released by Błaszczak also means that the Polish Ministry of Defence has set the path for Narew, and the formula of the programme. Narew would now transition to implementation. The Armament Inspectorate may send an invitation letter to PGZ so that the Group could participate in the negotiation. The PGZ Group would be acting as the main contractor which stems, most probably, from the assessment of the emergence of the Essential State Security Interest. The execution of the assessment in question was announced by the MoD last year.

What the Narew System Really Is?

First, one should recall the basic assumptions that have been adopted for the Narew programme. Narew is to play a relevant role in the Polish air defence system. The initial assumption was to acquire 19 SHORAD batteries (38 fire units). The aforesaid assets were to be received by the 3rd “Warszawska” Air Defence Missile Brigade, and by the Air Defence regiments of the Army (that would be the primary user of Narew), and, probably, by the coastal Navy units. The above translates into more than 100 launchers, and, depending on configuration, even as many as 2 thousand missiles. This means that the scope of the programme is broad, with the acquisition costs estimated at the level of PLN 30-40 bn (approx USD 8.5 to more than 10 billion), assuming that a full scale procurement of the system is conducted.

Narew system is the system that would be responsible for acting against most of the air-breathing targets - fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, or cruise missiles. The Narew units would protect both the airbases (additionally protected by the IBCS/Patriot systems), as well as Army assets, closely working with VSHORAD systems (such as Poprad) operated by the Army elements. Narew missiles would most probably have a range of around 40 kilometers. The initial assumption for this performance figure was at the level of 25 kilometers. However, the technological developments mean that effectors of greater capability would be ultimately implemented. Narew’s role has been described by Błaszczak in the following manner:

We are currently at the base of the 3rd “Warszawska” Air Defense Brigade. The soldiers assigned to this unit are already engaged in training in the US, while some of them are already ready to take over two Patriot batteries assigned to the brigade. The agreement in question was signed in March 2018. The agreement covers the introduction of the Polish Patriot systems, also in the area co-created by the Polish defence industry (...) The purpose of that system would be to provide safety in the medium domain (...) Today, the Polish military only has VSHORAD systems at its disposal: Grom, Piorun, and Poprad systems. We have been missing the element between Poprad and Patriot systems.

Head of the Polish Ministry of Defence, Mariusz Błaszczak

 Narew: Configuration Outline

Assigning the Narew programme implementation task to the Polish industry is aligned with the assumptions that have been mentioned at least since 2014. When it comes to the baseline, we know most about the radars, as these have already been developed (or are in production), by/at the Polish industry, namely by the PGZ Group’s PIT-RADWAR company. The Polish Sajna radar would be used in a role of a multi-functional fire control radar. It is being developed within the framework of a project supervised by the National Centre for Research and Development. Sajna is an AESA-class radar with an extendible mast for the antenna which enhances its capability when it comes to detection and tracking of low-flying threats. The first Narew batteries could also be fitted with the lighter Bystra radar - already available, as the series manufacturing contract has been signed in 2019 here. When it comes to early detection, this domain would be covered by the PET-PCL (passive) and P-18PL (active) radars. These are being developed by PIT-RADWAR as well - within the framework of another programme pursued by the National Centre for Research and Development.

When it comes to the missiles, several offers made by foreign bidders were being considered. It is expected that manufacturing capacity, concerning the missile, would be established in Poland. The assumption is for the missile to have an active radar seeker, with an optional IR guidance system available, with that missile not requiring a specific radar to be used. The missiles are also expected to be easily integrable within the C2 systems. In the context of Narew, missiles such as the IAI Barak-MX, MBDA CAMM/CAMM-ER, Rafael I-Derby(ER), and Python-5, Kongsberg-Raytheon NASAMS AMRAAM/AMRAAM-ER, and Raytheon/Rafael SkyCeptor (short variant) were being considered.

According to the previous statements made by the PGZ Group, establishing the capacity to manufacture the missiles could take 6 years from the moment when the agreement is signed. One should expect that the first couple of hundred missiles would be sourced from the manufacturer directly if the first Narew systems are delivered around 2025. Despite that, license manufacturing of the missiles is a major business opportunity for the PGZ Group. In practical terms, the missiles constitute most of the system’s value.

The issue of C2 system is less clear though. One of the scenarios considered assumed that PGZ would develop a solution as such. Another plan was to integrate Narew directly within the IBCS network available with the Wisła system. Fusion of both options was also given some thought, with the Polish system being used by the Land component, and IBCS being used by the Air Force - the 3rd Brigade, also operating the Patriot system integrated with IBCS by default. In case as such, the 3rd Brigade’s elements would be armed with medium and short-range missiles, and they would be working together, within a single C2 network. In the remaining units, Narew would be utilizing the Polish C2 solution, just like the VSHORAD assets operated by the Army.

Assigning the role of the main contractor to the PGZ Group would not be decisive when it comes to the configuration of the C2 system. Even if Narew (or a part of it) is integrated with the IBCS network, the PGZ Group still needs to retain its role as the primary contractor, as a manufacturer of the key components of the system. Meanwhile, the integration itself would be covered by a set of separate intergovernmental (FMS) or commercial (DCS) contracts.

Northrop Grumman, the manufacturer of IBCS, has been declaring its willingness to work with the Polish industry, take into account the domestic communications assets, and carry out the integration domestically, in Poland, using equipment delivered from the United States of America (payload approach).

A broad range of options is also available when it comes to the Polish C2 solution. Even though the PGZ’s declaration suggests that developing the C2 system from a scratch, under complete national control, would take around six years, the term could be shortened - if, within the C2 system, at least initially, hardware and software provided by the missile supplier are used.

What’s next?

Assuming that the MoD is determined enough to finance the programme, the final negotiation and definition of the configuration would be the greatest challenge - for instance, when it comes to the selection of the effector, implementation, and integration of the system, and then, launch of the manufacturing, and, finally, the deliveries. This must be done in sync with preparatory steps taken in the Armed Forces (infrastructure, training, logistics).

From this point of view, implementation divided into stages, on one hand, translates into resignation from some of the capabilities (as Bystra would be the radar used in the first batteries), and acceleration of the establishment of new capabilities within the military, that would be necessary anyway. One should recall that Kub (Army) and Newa-SC (Air Force) air defence assets that are expected to be replaced, despite the upgrades, belong back in the 1970s. They should have been replaced a long time ago. The Narew programme itself is suffering from major delays, as back in 2014 it was assumed that deliveries would begin in 2019. The extra air defence regiment of the newly formed 18th Mechanized Division also came into the picture.

Regardless of the variant selected, one thing is certain. The Narew programme bears an important role in the Polish military. It is the short-range system that should be used to protect the airbases (also the allied ones), work with the medium-range layer, and protect the mobile Army elements. In other words, the effectiveness of that system would influence the ability of the Polish Armed Forces to utilize many other assets. Thus, the system should be implemented effectively, also involving the Polish industry to as great extent as possible. The full scope of the Narew programme assumes that 19 batteries would be procured. This means that the deliveries alone could take a decade. The decision made by the MoD is a step made in the right direction. Determination to finalize the programme is also required.

We hope that, through negotiation, we would create circumstances in which the Polish defence industry would remain in possession of the potential tied to the missile system. We are still missing the capability as such. The contract grants us an opportunity to ensure security and equip the Armed Forces with an effective weapon, but it is also an opportunity for the Polish defence industry. We are establishing a system for the security of our Homeland, modernizing the inventory of the Polish military, and growing the Armed Forces.

Head of the Polish Ministry of Defence, Mariusz Błaszczak