Polish “Twardy” Main Battle Tanks Headed to Latvia

  • Rysunek koncepcyjny satelity pogodowego systemu DSMP. Ilustracja:
    Rysunek koncepcyjny satelity pogodowego systemu DSMP. Ilustracja:

Antoni Macierewicz, Polish Minister of Defence, announced that the Polish Army is going to deploy a company of the PT-91 Twardy main battle tanks to Latvia. The vehicles in question are to become a part of the battalion group stationed there.

During his visit to Israel, the Polish Minister of Defence confirmed the fact that the PT-91 Twardy main battle tanks are to constitute the core equipment of the company which is expected to become a part of the battalion combat team, the presence of which is maintained by NATO within the territory of Latvia. The aforesaid joint unit is going to be commanded by the Canadians, and it is to involve, besides the Poles, soldiers hailing from Italy, Albania and Slovenia as well.

I have decided that Poland would join Canada, which is the framework Nation in Latvia, and that we will send a single company of Polish tanks there.

Antoni Macierewicz, Minister of Defence

PT-91 Twardy main battle tanks are a deeply modernized variant of the T-72M1 platform, developed and manufactured by the Polish defence industry. They have been fitted with the new ERAWA-1/2 reactive armour, Drawa fire control system (including Drawa-T system with a FLIR sight), improved S-12U powerpack (850 HP), and Odra laser warning receiver.

PT-91 tanks have been developed at the Bumar-Łabędy facility, both as vehicles manufactured from scratch, as well as in a form of modernized T-72M1 tanks. As the first platform used within the Polish Army, Twardy tanks have been fitted with thermal vision observation systems. The tank has also received the enhanced protection offered by the reactive armour system, which keeps the crew safer from the anti tank weaponry, also from the weapons that are using the tandem warheads, at least to some extent.

When Drawa fire control system was being developed, experience and expertise gathered during the R&D works implemented by the Polish defence industry, related to the Merida FCS for the T-55AM tanks, modernized back in the 1980s, has also been taken into account. Similarly to the Obra system, the solution mentioned above has been delivered by the PCO company.

PT-91 tank’s disadvantages included lack of accuracy, when the cannon was being fired on the move, due to the fact that obsolete stabilizer unit has been applied within the turret. Another disadvantage has been seen in relatively weak mobility (acceleration dynamics or low speed in reverse, making it more difficult to carry out defensive manoeuvrers).

After the process of introducing the Leopard 2A4 tanks into the inventory of the Polish Army (with the 2A5 platform to follow) was finalized, the modernization, regarding the upgrades of the T-72M1 tanks up to the PT-91 standard, has been completed too. Soldiers of the 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade, the first users of the Leopard tanks, when they compared the new platform to the Twardy vehicle, mentioned, above all, the accuracy of the rounds fired on the move or manoeuvrability of the German tank, as the main advantages Leopard had, over the Twardy platform. Leopard tanks have much more effective base armour at their disposal too. The German vehicle is also tailored to be used as a hunter-killer platform, with independent targeting system for the commander available.

On the other hand, even though the Leopard 2 tanks have been delivered in large quantity (mostly in 2A5 variant), the Polish Army still utilizes a certain number of unmodified T-72M1 tanks, operated by the 21st Highland Rifle Brigade, or by the 15th “Giżycka” Mechanized Brigade. Twardy main battle tanks are being used by the 1st “Warszawska” Armoured Brigade, 9th Armoured Cavalry Brigade, and by the 2nd “Legioni” Mechanized Brigade.

Several variants of the Twardy main battle tanks were developed, with enhanced combat capabilities. One of the derivates, fitted with the French SAVAN-15 fire control suite and S-1000/ESM-350 powerpack were being exported to Malaysia (48 such vehicles have been sold). During the MSPO 2016 exhibition, a new, PT-16 standard demonstrator of the Twardy tank has been showcased. This variant is dedicated, predominantly, for the export sales.

Ammunition is also a relevant issue here. The available information suggests that most of the ammunition stored, dates back to the times of the Warsaw Pact, while the quantity of modern rounds is critically limited. Within the scope of modernization works, PT-91 Twardy main battle tanks are receiving the KLW-1 “Asteria” thermal vision systems, nonetheless, deeper upgrade has not been planned. Ultimately, PT-91 tanks are going to be replaced, but they are destined to be still used operationally for quite some time in the future.

Hence, the Polish Twardy tanks would join other NATO armoured assets of the battalion groups gathered on the Eastern Flank – British Challenger, French Leclerc main battle tanks stationed in Estonia and German Leopard 2 tanks, stationed in Germany. Poland has also detached its Leopard 2A4 and Leopard 2A5 tanks (in 2015 and 2016 respectively), to become a part of the so called “NATO Spearhead”.

PT-91 tanks are going to be involved in the deployments abroad for now. It shall be noted that deployment of deeply modernized equipment as a part of NATO operations is not unusual, as it has been exemplified by the German Marder IFV, playing an important role within the NATO VJTF composition of the year 2015.