The United States President Donald Trump announced last week an agreement to increase the U.S. troop presence in Poland by 25% and Poland plans to purchase 32 F-35s, the fourth generation aircraft designed to penetrate Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) areas. Last year, on March 28th, Poland purchased the United States Patriot air and missile defense system that includes the new Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS), the new Patriot Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) interceptor, and the new SkyCeptor cruise missile interceptor – which is a missile variant of Israel’s David Sling interceptor. Additionally, the United States 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team (BCT) is currently on rotation and the United States Navy is building and deploying the Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense (BMD) system per a NATO requirement in Poland.
Poland is bordered by Kaliningrad – Russian territory – to its north, Ukraine – which has been partially occupied and assaulted by Russia since 2014 – to the South East, and Belarus – who are in alignment with Russia – to the East. In Kaliningrad, Russia has deployed an A2/AD bubble that extends well into Polish territory with their Iskander ballistic and cruise missiles and S-400 air and missile defense systems. In Ukraine, Russia has demonstrated the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and drone reconnaissance to create effective and accurate long-range artillery and rocket attacks and drone swarms for electronic and cyber-attacks.
Poland, as well as NATO Baltic and eastern European and Scandinavian countries, are deeply concerned about Russian aggression which include a demonstrated threat in recent engagements in Ukraine and Georgia, placement of long-range armaments in Kaliningrad, demonstration of long distance over the horizon launched cruise missiles, testing of hypersonic glide platforms, and increased NATO territorial airspace intrusions. With Poland’s occupied history by the Russians during WWII and the Cold War, Poland is acutely aware and very sensitive to being placed again in a buffer zone between Western Europe and Russia. Poland finds themselves in a predicament that they do not want to be in. They are counting on U.S. military presence in their country and membership in NATO to deter Russia and they are leading NATO on policy, requirements, and awareness of the threat from Russia on Poland, the Baltic States, and the Eastern European NATO nations.
Over the past few days, Poland hosted the largest ground based air defense exercise in Europe since the end of the Cold War (Tobruk Legacy 2019), with 4,800 personnel, 1,318 pieces of equipment, and 18 NATO countries participating – of which 13 engaged in live firing of their ground based air defense systems. All of the systems integrated and interoperable on a common network to provide a common air picture of the best sensors to track and target air threats amongst all of the 13 participating NATO nations. Spread across four major testing grounds in Poland and all connected to track, target, and destroy the air breathing target threats with different weapon systems of different eras – that range from several decades old to today’s modern systems and across the spectrum of Russian, French, American and German developed and produced systems.
Air defense systems launched during live fire portion of Tobruq Legacy 2019
- SA-6 Gainful (Soviet Union legacy produced system)
- RBS-70 Man-portable air defense system (MANPADS) (Sweden produced system)
- HVM Stormer (United Kingdom produced system)
- MISTRAL MANPADS (France produced system)
- LeFlaSys Ozelot (Germany produced system)
- Fennek (Germany and Netherlands produced system)
- MIM-23 Hawk (United States legacy produced system)
- SA-18 MANPADS (Soviet Union legacy produced system)
- Avenger (United States produced system)
- Stinger MANPADS (United States produced system)
Poland’s leadership to host this live fire exercise is impressive, timely, and strategic for its own national security and that of NATO. This exercise force functions interoperability, integrated command and control, identifies gaps, and integrates the systems as well as well as provide the common air picture. Poland will soon be deploying on its territory the most current and newest multi-domain air and missile defense systems in the world, securing its national security, and becoming a NATO leader in this mission.
NATO interoperability to leverage all the different NATO national systems and networks to fight together as one team against the threat – all for one and one for all – brings magnitude and diversity of capabilities that will best deter and defend if deterrence fails against a massive near peer threat such as Russia. Next week the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is hosting the Minsters of Defense from all of the NATO nations and will discuss the security environment of NATO and the best way forward to ensure peace, deter conflict, and fight to resolve quickly if deterrence fails. Three key areas of this discussion will be the best way forward for NATO air and missile defense and the ramifications of Russia’s violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
The development, testing, and deployment of air and missile defense systems for NATO is vital for the safety of the populations and the charter of NATO. As the escalating actions in the Middle East by Iran this week demonstrates the projection of power from missiles and UAVs that continue to proliferate as the weapon of choice.
All eyes are upon Poland