At the end of May 2013, the German and Polish defense ministers signed a Letter of Intent on naval cooperation. What does that mean for Polish submarine plans?
Poland’s current submarine fleet includes 1 Russian Kilo Class boat, ORP Orzel, which was commissioned in 1986. Another 4 modernized U207 Kobben Class pocket submarines of German design were given to Poland by Norway, who added 1 Type 207 used for spares/ training. The tiny 435t Type 207s were commissioned in Norway from 1964 – 1967, which doesn’t leave them much of a safe lifespan.
Poland’s 2013 – 2022 defense modernization plan expects to finalize specifications for new submarines by the end of 2013. Two would be bought in 2022, and a 3rd in 2030. Poland’s shipyards had been expecting to participate, and to receive technology transfer benefits.
A copy of the LoI received by Defense Industry Daily sets out 28 named cooperation domains. They include joint exercises and services, exchange of knowledge and personnel, operational activities together, and the acquisition and maintenance of new equipment.
Procurement projects include include common procurement and operation of Joint Support Ships, and of mission modules for Germany’s 6 forthcoming MKS180/ K131 special mission ships. New oilers and tankers are listed as a common development and operation case: Poland operates only ORP Baltyk, and Germany’s 2 remaining Walchensee Class coastal tankers were commissioned in 1966.
Submarines are mentioned twice, via generic “cooperation in the field of submarines” (#1), and “Establishment of a DEU-POL submarine operating authority” (#8). The first is normal, but the second is an important step, especially in light of recent events in both Poland and Germany.
Germany’s budget has seen steady pressure, leading to planned reductions and sell-offs within a number of major orders. Poland’s defense budget, which had defied European trends, is headed for imminent cuts as 2013 government revenues come in below expectations. The MON has stated that it will protect land systems modernization as a top priority, and recent orders for more wheeled Rosomak IFVs seem to reinforce that trend. On the modern battlefield, airpower is the dominant asset, and Poland’s planning acknowledges that they need to improve both their aerial fleet and their air & missile defense capabilities. The Polish Navy has generally been the lowest priority for Polish military modernization, and current imperatives show no signs of changing that status.
In that environment, new submarines will face funding challenges, unless the budgetary environment improves.
Those circumstances are adding plausibility to an unconfirmed report we’ve received that that the German BWB has proposed leasing 2 of the Deutsche Marine’s U212A submarines to Poland, a move that would keep the German fleet at 4 despite planned deliveries. A common operating authority is certainly a good way to tie that kind of arrangement together, and each government has reasons to like the idea. Not only would Germany save on operating expenses by remaining at 4 boats, they would be able to make money doing it, instead of paying for basic maintenance of mothballed boats. Meanwhile, Poland would avoid the huge up-front cost of buying new boats, and might be able to save money by decommissioning the old, maintenance-intensive U207/Kobben Class boats soon after any U212A lease.
Our source says that a deal could be done by the end of 2013.
If true, the EU can be expected to stick its nose in – as they did in 2010 when the Czech Republic bought/ bartered for 4 C-295M light transports from EADS, without opening the deal to EU-wide competition.
Poland’s shipyards like Stocznia Remontowa Nauta and Stocznia Marynarki Wojennej, whose owners were hoping to use the submarine deal to modernize their aging infrastructure, would also be out in the cold. The Polish shipbuilding industry is a shadow of what it was in the 1980s, when the Gdansk-centered Solidarity movement began bringing down the Soviet Empire. With that said, there are still enough workers and dollars in the industry to give it political clout.
* PAP (July 17/13) – Budzet MON zmniejszy sie o 3,3 mld zl. Zolnierze nie ucierpia?
* Polish Chancellery of the Prime Minister (July 16/13) – PM on budget amendment. Income is projected to be down by PLN 24 billion over forecasts, and the plan includes cuts of PLN 8.5 – 8.6 billion in the ministries. The MON is said to be facing a PLN $3.3 – $3.5 billion cut, though the MON’s preliminary announcement isn’t that specific.
* ASD News (April 9/13) – Germany Forced to Cut Defensse Budget due to European Debt Crisis
* Defense News (Oct 24/12) – Poland’s Spending Up as Most of E. Europe Cuts Back
* Forbes (July 15/09) – Shipbuilding Collapse Transforms Polish Economy. It’s a smaller industry now, but still big enough to be noticeable at a national political level.