The issue of defence spending amongst NATO’s European members has been quite frankly, a problem for years now. To be a member of the alliance, countries are supposed to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defence but since the end of the Cold War, this has often failed to be realized, particularly by nations in Western Europe.
Combined with the fact that the primary defence concern for twenty years for most NATO members has been waging low intensity anti-insurgency in Afghanistan, the Middle East and Africa, conventional military forces have largely been downgraded in importance. In fact, several NATO countries have drastically reduced their numbers of Main Battle Tanks, or even in some examples dispensed with heavy armour completely.
This has meant that the recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia has come as something of a shock, and now a number of NATO armies are having to reassess their plans on both future force requirements and spending. But Poland, very much NATO’s border with Russia, is certainly not messing about.
Its Defence Minister has revealed that they are on the verge of signing a deal, possibly tomorrow (the 27th of July), that will almost entirely reequip the Polish Army with new cutting-edge equipment.
Poland already has on order 250 new build M1 Abrams from the United States, though it is thought that deliveries of second-hand US Army variants may already be taking place to make up gaps in the Polish tank fleet by their transfer of old T-72s from their inventory to Ukraine. Additionally, the Poles had already issued a request to the United States in June to purchase five hundred HIMARS artillery rocket launchers – which if completed would give Poland a staggering amount of modern artillery.
It isn’t just on the ground where Poland has been spending big either.
In 2020 they signed a deal worth $4.6 billion to buy thirty-two F-35 stealth fighters, with the type expected to become operational with Polish squadrons in 2026, though that timeline may well have been moved up.
Combined with recent acquisitions of new Patriot surface to air missiles and plans to build new tank destroyers armed with Brimstone missiles, all of this means the Poles are already well on their way to having one of the most formidable and best equipped militaries in NATO.
But the new deal makes what has already been signed and bought look almost small. Poland and South Korea have apparently agreed that the former will purchase one thousand new K2 MBTs, 672 K9 self-propelled guns and 48 F/A-50 fighter jets.
If it all comes to pass, and it seems that that is highly likely, then the deal will be South Korea’s biggest arms export ever.
According to a Polish military spokesperson, the plan is for South Korea to deliver between now and 2025 180 new-build K2 tanks, which will be used to replace T-72s and Polish built PT-91 that are being supplied to Ukraine. While this is ongoing South Korea will conduct a technology transfer that will allow Poland to begin construction of their own variant of the tank, the K-2PL.
This will have improved armour and sensors, as well as an Active Protection System and the Polish military state that they currently intend to build 820 of these. Once the factory is up to speed and delivering Polish-made tanks the original South Korean ones will be upgraded to the same standard.
In an age when many tank fleets have been run down this, along with the purchase of M1s and the upgrading of Poland’s existing fleet of Leopard IIs means that the Polish Armed Force’s will have one of the largest and certainly most modern tank fleets in the world.
A similar story follows with the K9’s. Poland already licence build the chassis for this vehicle for use in its own self-propelled artillery gun, the AHS Krab. This vehicle is currently in production, but a number have been transferred to Ukraine already and additional orders from that country are on the books, so it is likely that the entire production run of these will be transferred.
Instead, Polish artillery will receive 48 K9A1s from new builds made in Poland from kits and some from South Korean stocks, with deliveries to be finished by next year. Production will then transition to the building of K9PLs, a more advanced variant based on the K9A2. 624 of these are planned, with production starting in South Korea and then a new plant in Poland beginning deliveries in 2026.
Additionally, the two countries will agree to develop the next iteration of these weapons, the K3PL tank and the K9PLA3 SPG, with production to occur in both countries.
In terms of the aircraft, the 48 F/A-50s will be used to partially replace the legacy Soviet aircraft still in service such as the MiG-29 fighter and Su-22 attack aircraft, with first deliveries intended for next year.
While the F/A-50 may seem a little lightweight to take on these roles directly, as a thoroughly modern aircraft capable of using the latest weaponry it is certainly a qualitied advance and a great intermediate aircraft choice.
In addition to the purchases, the two countries are also apparently discussing further transfers, with the Poles indicating that they are also looking at the possibility of also ordering K21 infantry fighting vehicles. Though the Polish designed and built BWP Borsuk is still intended to be the primary Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) of the Polish Army, K21s might be purchased to provide a more heavily armoured vehicle for operations alongside the M1s.
Additionally, the Poles and South Koreans are also exploring possible sales and transfers of artillery rocket systems and wheeled armoured personnel carriers as well.
With other NATO countries now scratching their heads over where their defence spending needs to go, for the Poles at least the decision is clear, and action is being taken.