Polish Equipment Issues and Consequences

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Polish officer at Bagram memorial, Afghanistan(click to view full) In August 2009, Polish Land Forces Commander Lt. Gen Waldemar Skrzypczak dropped a different kind of bomb by resigning, after accusing defense bureaucrats in Warsaw of “serious incompetence” that was partly responsible for the deaths of Polish soldiers. As one might predict, those comments touched off […]
Bagram memorial

Polish officer at Bagram
memorial, Afghanistan
(click to view full)

In August 2009, Polish Land Forces Commander Lt. Gen Waldemar Skrzypczak dropped a different kind of bomb by resigning, after accusing defense bureaucrats in Warsaw of “serious incompetence” that was partly responsible for the deaths of Polish soldiers. As one might predict, those comments touched off promises of major equipment purchases, along with a political firestorm.

The end of a senior officer’s career is no small sacrifice. If done voluntarily, it must be done with and for honor. Ideally, it should also end up spurring necessary changes. So, what has happened since?

The General’s Broadside

Polish troops Afghanistan

Polish troops, Afghanistan
(click to view larger)

The general began his broadside by telling the Dziennik daily newspaper that defense ministry officials “knew war only from the movies,” and reportedly said that:

“It is shameful that we haven’t given soldiers needed equipment… We’ve been fighting for equipment [like UAVs and fully armed helicopters] for over two years, but no one is listening to commanders. We’re asking for arms but everything is drowning in procedures.”

The political firestorm only got worse when Poland’s Defense Minister Bogdan Klich told a press conference that the general had admitted his comments were a mistake. The general quickly responded that the minister was being dishonest, adding that the only mistake he accepted had been making the comments the day before the funeral of Capt. Daniel Ambrozinski, 32, killed by a Taliban sniper on Aug 10/09. Four soldiers were wounded in the clash, and initial inquiries found that the unit had not received prompt back-up owing to equipment shortages. Gen. Skrzypczak added that he stood fully behind the substance of his remarks, and resigned in protest.

In a Polish Radio interview the next day, Bogdan Klich described the resignation as being “politically motivated,” which is true even if one takes the general fully at his word for his reasons. Minister Klich added that the general had never approached him with these criticisms, “neither in public nor in private.”

This has hardly been the first complaint regarding Polish equipment and logistics performance, however, as their presence in Afghanistan has grown from a token force of about 100 to around 2,000 troops today. Some of these problems have apparently come from trying to keep up with the Americans, who keep changing key components of their body armor, roadside bomb jammers, and night vision gear. Other problems involve difficulty budgeting for and delivering equipment to meet trends like personal tactical radios and UAVs, which have caught on in Britain and America as critical components for urban combat. Still other problems involved timely provision of basic upgrades like actually mounting adequate machine guns on Poland’s Mi-17s, and a MOND supply office that was slow to provide spare parts, leaving Polish soldiers with broken and hence useless equipment.

Polish Cougar

Cougar, on loan
(click to view larger)

The United States military has loaned Poland 30-40 blast-resistant Cougar vehicles for use in Afghanistan, and has reportedly made quite a few front-line “loans” of day-to-day equipment as well. According to recent reports, a rescue package of equipment may also be in the cards from Warsaw.

Gen. Skrzypczak is not alone in taking such steps – a UK SAS commander quit because of inadequate equipment. Peacetime armies are never fully adapted to wartime urgencies, and the cost is always measured in lives. If the soldiers on the front lines must put their lives on the line, however, the senior officer’s highest ethic calls for honest advice and fidelity to their soldiers, even if that results in the sacrifice of their careers.

Lt. Gen Waldemar Skrzypczak fulfilled that duty as he saw it. The question now is whether this produces real change on the front lines.

Aftermath: Contracts and Key Events

Aerostar UAV

Aerostar UAV
(click to view full)

Sept 28/12: Aerostar canceled. Poland’s Ministry of Defence sends Aerostar a formal letter citing breach of contract, canceling the 2010 deal (q.v. Feb 2/10 entry). They will be asking for their money back, plus penalties for non-delivery.

The problem is that the 2 Aerostar systems didn’t meet Poland’s specifications when they were delivered. A revised agreement was negotiated in 2011, and was supposed to provide 2 leased Aerostar systems in Afghanistan. That didn’t happen, either, and Poland is currently relying on the USA for tactical UAV feeds. Hence the cancellation.

The question is what Poland will do now. With an Afghan exit near, it may decide to rely on the USA for a while, while it re-thinks its broader needs. Poland’s commitment to defense spending under the present government suggests, however, that a competition for larger UAVs will be re-tendered. Polish MoD.

Aerostar UAVs canceled

Sept 23/10: ScanEagle. It takes a while, but Boeing subsidiary Insitu, Inc. in Bingen, WA gets a $7.2 million modification to an American firm-fixed-price contract (N00019-09-C-0005), for Poland’s order of 10 ScanEagle systems.

Work will be performed in Bingen, WA, and is expected to be complete in September 2011. $3.5 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract on Poland’s behalf.

ScanEagle UAVs

June 16/10: ScanEagle UAVs. Reports surface that Poland has joined the customer list for Boeing’s leased ScanEagle UAV services, but details are scarce. At 15-20 hours endurance, ScanEagle offers longer on station time than leased Aeronautics DS’ Aerostars’ 8-12 hours. On the other hand, the Aerostar offers 110 pounds of payload, while ScanEagle offers just 13 pounds.

Aviation Week reports that Boeing is also in talks with a number of European countries to lease ScanEagle UAV services, with the option of an upgrade to their Insitu subsidiary’s slightly larger and more advanced Integrator UAV later on. Aviation Week | Shepard Group | StrategyPage*.

* = Note that Poland submitted a DSCA request to buy 16 Shadow UAVs in 2006, but doesn’t appear to have ordered any. ScanEagle would join Aeronautics’ Orbiter mini-UAV and Aerostar tactical UAV, and the MQ-1 Predator, as UAVs available to Polish forces.

April 2010: MQ-1 Predator UAVs. The Polish Ministry of National Defence (MOND) says that the USA will be lending them 2 MQ-1 Predator systems, for use in Afghanistan. Source.

Predator UAV loan

Feb 25/10: Aerostar UAVs. Defense News reports that Poland has signed the formal contract with Aeronautics DS for its Aerostar UAV systems.


Polish Mi-17,
in Afghanistan
(click to view full)

Feb 10/10: Mi-17s. Polish defense minister Bogdan Klich announces that the MOND is awarding Metalexport Sp z o.o. a 313 million zloty (about $106 million) contract to deliver 5 more Mi-17 helicopters for use in Afghanistan. Upon delivery, the helicopters will be upgraded over 3 months by Military Air Works No. 1 (WZL-1), to include multi-barreled machine guns and passive defense systems against missiles.

MOND’s release says that: “Contracted helicopters will have been delivered to the Polish troops from July to September [2010].”

5 Mi-17s

Feb 2/10: Medium UAVs. Poland Ministry of National Defence (MOND) uses a 90-minute electronic auction under an “Urgent Operational Need procedure” that began in fall 2009, in order to purchase 2 systems of medium-range UAVs. Aeronautics Defense System’s Aerostar UAV wins, with a bid of 89 million zlotys (about $33 million) to cover 8 UAVs and associated ground systems.

Delivery will be made within 7 months from the date of the contract signing. One system of UAVs, ground control stations, etc. will go directly to Afghanistan to the province of Ghazni to strengthen the capabilities of the Polish Military Contingent, while the other will remain in Poland for training purposes. The Dutch armed forces are already renting the Aerostar for use in Afghanistan, and Poland already operates Aeronautics DS’ Orbiter mini-UAV, which advertised a “NATO customer” in October 2006.

The Aerostar competed against a Elbit Systems’ larger Hermes 450, which forms the basis of Britain’s Watchkeeper system and is already operating in Afghanistan as well. Elbit’s bid was reportedly 122 million zlotys.

Israel Aerospace Industries competed with its Searcher III UAV, which is more similar to the Aerostar. Earlier Searcher-II models serves with Spain’s Army in Afghanistan, and the Russians recently bought some for their own use. It was rejected, however, as failing to comply with requirements.

2 Aerostar UAV systems

Aug 19/09: Equipment package proposed. Reports surface of a “billion zloty” package (about $350 million) that would include the intended Polish MRAP competition for up to 60 vehicles, 2 medium-range UAV systems, and up to 5 helicopters that would “probably” be more Mi-17s, bringing the Polish Mi-17 fleet to 11. Polskie Radio.

Aug 17-20/09: Resignation. Lt. Gen Waldemar Skrzypczak makes his criticism public, then resigns, and the political fireworks begin. Dziennik [in Polish] | Polskie Radio re: resignation | Polskie Radio re: political aftermath | BBC | Defense Management | Defense News | StrategyPage | Taiwan News | UPI || Polish MND announcement re: Capt. Ambrozinki.

Resignation on principle

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