Poland has embarked on an unprecedented spending spree on weapons and military equipment that could turn it into one of Europe’s major military powers.
Wary of Russia’s growing military might, last year the Polish government earmarked £5.6 billion for the country’s defence budget, a 2 per cent increase on 2013, and this year the sum has jumped to £6.62 billion. The government has also committed the country to a £24 billion spending programme lasting from 2013 till 2022.
“A strong army is essential,” said Andrzej Duda, Poland’s new president. “Such an army will make people understand they can’t raise their hand against us. This is really important.”
Earlier this year the Polish parliament also voted to raise defence spending to a minimum of 2 per cent of GDP next year from the current level of 1.95 per cent, which will make it one of just four Nato states – including the UK – to hit the alliance’s unofficial spending target.
Over the weekend Poland showed off some of its new firepower in one of the biggest military parades seen in Warsaw since the end of communism with a number of brand new German-made Leopard 2A5 main battle tanks in the lead.
According to website Global Firepower, Poland now has 1,009 tanks – more than Britain and Germany combined. Although many of these are ageing and in need of modernisation the fact that Poland made the effort to show off some of its new hardware in the parade reflected the country’s willingness to spend on arms and equipment at a time when the defence budgets of other European countries are wilting in the age of austerity.
“We are investing in new helicopters, missiles and air defence systems, modern artillery, the modernisation of the navy and command and control systems,” said Tomasz Siemoniak, the Polish defence minister, in a speech in Washington earlier this year.
“Pretty soon Poland will have spent over $40 billion on modernisation, and that means we are spending today more than all the other countries that joined Nato in 1999 together.”
About a 36 per cent chunk of Poland’s 2015 budget will go on new equipment. The Polish shopping list includes new submarines, helicopters, air-defence missile systems and advanced training aircraft.
The country is also spending £1.7 to £2 billion on eight Patriot missile batteries, which are due to become operational in 2025.
But the Polish desire to modernise and plough money into its armed forces is not just linked to the problem of having to get rid of old equipment.
Poles have always been nervous about the intentions of Russia. But the Ukraine war and Moscow’s annexation of Ukrainian territory has added a fresh layer of anxiety to those traditional suspicions, and increased the desire to get the armed forces battle ready.
Poland has been pressing Nato to establish a permanent military presence on Polish soil. But with the alliance appearing reluctant to do so Poland is aware that with no permanent Nato presence, in the worst case scenario it would have fight alone for a number of days until help arrived, and therefore needs well-equipped armed forces.