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Reforming Poland's military

Bronislaw Komorowski explains the reasoning behind his country's new programme to restructure and modernise its armed forces.

A show of hands: a large majority of the Polish parliament voted for both NATO membership and the defence reform programme ( © NATO - 82Kb)

The Polish Armed Forces went through a turbulent period in the decade after 1989. As in other postcommunist countries, successive governments found to their cost that the transformation of the defence establishment, as an essential component of the social, political and economic transformation of the country, was more difficult, more painful and slower than expected. These difficulties were compounded in the latter part of the decade by further reforms necessitated by Poland's entry into NATO. As a result, the Polish Armed Forces today still have a long and difficult path of reform before them.

During the next five years, these reforms will change fundamentally not only the structure of the armed forces, their command, control, communication and intelligence systems, and operational procedures, but also the military education system and personnel structure. These changes will not only be extremely complex for the armed forces, but they will almost inevitably create social tensions and result in a different relationship between the military and society.

Today, the 350,000-strong armed forces of the 1980s have been reduced to about 200,000. However, this numerical change failed to generate similar improvements in quality. Although the reforms aimed at creating smaller but more effective armed forces, the increase in effectiveness was modest due to the inability to allocate the savings generated by reducing the size of the army to its technical modernisation. Those savings were returned to the state budget to meet Poland's most immediate needs.

Poland's participation as a NATO member in defence planning since 1999 has been a major spur to reform and the latest programme of reform is aimed at fulfilling Alliance objectives. At the time when Poland joined NATO, Alliance members adopted a new Strategic Concept and launched the Defence Capabilities Initiative. The resulting force goals, which are primarily concerned with the technical modernisation of the armed forces, the organisation of rapid reaction forces and improvement of operations, require substantial expenditure and the development of a better long-term financial planning framework, as well as a complete change of the philosophy of military reform. The Programme of Restructuring and Technical Modernisation of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Poland 2001-2006 (the reform programme) is based on such principles.

The earlier reduction of manpower was not followed by a similar reduction in military hardware and assets. The armed forces have, for example, been using high-maintenance equipment and munitions of little military and training value, such as T-55 tanks and 100 mm shells. Moreover, obsolete equipment and stockpiles require active supervision, which is extremely costly. Disposing of surplus assets, including obsolete training grounds, many of which have some commercial value, should generate savings of between 200 and 250 million zloty (about $50 and $60 million). Further savings should come from the planned reductions in military personnel, money that will in future be retained within the defence budget, and by changing procurement procedures and contracting out services to the private sector.

These cost-cutting measures should allow the defence ministry to increase the proportion of its budget allocated to capital expenditure from the current 12 per cent to 23 per cent in five years. In practice, they should augment the defence ministry's budget and provide necessary funding for long-term restructuring and modernisation. To achieve this, however, the defence budget will need to be maintained at 1.95 per cent of GDP throughout the implementation period of the reforms.

All projects related to Poland's obligations to NATO, as well as to current requirements of Poland's defence system, form part of the reform programme. In the process of restructuring Poland's armed forces, one third of the military — rapid reaction and strategic covering forces — should become fully interoperable with other NATO militaries, adapting to NATO standards regarding armaments, equipment, mobility and the ability to operate in complex missions beyond Polish territory. The programme provides for the modernisation of intelligence, command and air defence systems, and for halting the further deterioration of armaments and military infrastructure in the remaining two thirds of the Polish Armed Forces.

Further plans include the creation of clear functional divisions between operational and support forces; changing the structure of military posts for professional soldiers to adapt it to NATO standards; and adapting logistics systems to those in NATO countries, improving the armed forces' ability to cooperate with relevant NATO structures, and increasing their mobility to enable them to take part in operations outside Poland.

In completing the design of the War Command System and ensuring its compatibility with NATO command systems, the most diff icult task is likely to be reducing personnel according to a tight schedule. By the end of 2001, 26,000 more posts, that is 13 per cent of the total, should have gone, leaving 180,000, including 36,000 officers and 52,200 other professional soldiers. The number of conscript soldiers will be reduced to 91,800. By 2003, the overall numbers should be reduced further to 150,000 of whom 75,000 will be professionals.

Personnel reductions are directly linked to recruitment in military schools as well as the system of discharge. While graduates of Polish military academies boast a high level of education and military skills, the schooling process is excessively long and expensive in relation to the armed forces' actual needs. The annual cost of educating a cadet comes to approximately 38,000 zloty, compared with 6,500 zloty for a university student. As a result, in the f irst instance, the number of places in military academies will be reduced. Following this reduction, the armed forces will begin recruiting regular university graduates for officer posts on a contract basis and introducing a system of continuous education. The social costs of these reductions are likely to be extremely high and this may cause unrest among those officers — colonels, lieutenant colonels and majors — who will bear the brunt of the cuts, many of whom will be discharged within three years.

The technical modernisation of the armed forces is likely to be less painful, but equally costly. The focal point of the modernisation programme will be the provision of High Operation Readiness Units (one third of all armed forces) with modern equipment. This will be achieved either by purchasing new equipment or modernising old, as well as by designating currently used armaments from other types of forces to High Operation Readiness Units. The process of technical modernisation is based on longterm programmes with guaranteed, statutory financing.

Significant resources will be earmarked to the following areas: modernising the air-defence system, including the command system and the process of obtaining multirole aircraft; upgrading T-72 tanks to meet NATO standards and obtaining new tanks; introducing different types of wheeled armouredpersonnel carriers, and introducing new anti-tank guided missiles; equipping ships with modern missile systems; modernising combat helicopters; purchasing medium-lift transport aircraft; and introducing new ships of 621 (corvette) and FFG-7 (frigate) types, and submarines.

By 2006, the Polish Armed Forces should comprise the following units, equipped and trained to NATO standards: 11 combat units of the brigade-regiment type, 15 combat units of the battalion type, two units of the company type, five tactical air squadrons, 22 air-defence missile divisions, seven air bases, three radio-electronics units, 35 ships and two naval air squadrons. By that time, Polish units of the Danish-German-Polish Multinational Corps North-East based in Szczecin, Poland, will have attained the required NATO standards.

The process of technical modernisation, which will include purchasing armaments and military equipment, should generate opportunities for Poland's military industry and related businesses. The reform programme has been drawn up on the basis of wide-ranging consultation with politicians of all persuasions and military experts. Implementation will be difficult and will require broad support. Critically, however, the planned reforms have been welcomed by all Poland's major political parties, both those in government and those in opposition. This support led to the adoption, by a large majority, in parliament on 25 May, of a bill covering the reform programme.

For more details of the Programme of Restructuring and Technical Modernisation of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Poland for 2001-2006, see http://www.wp.mil.pl.

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