Heavy metal Poland 'to become Europe's fighting superpower'

Purchase of 1,000 tanks and 600 artillery pieces propels East European country into top ranks of military hardware

The Polish tank PT-91. Reuters
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Poland is set to become Europe’s military superpower by “firing up a massive amount of heavy metal” creating more armoured divisions than any other continental country, military experts have said.

Warsaw is buying more than 1,000 tanks and 600 artillery pieces that will mean it has more firepower than Britain, France, Germany and Italy combined.

With Russia now regarded as a “profoundly hostile” threat, Warsaw has decided to double the size of its army to 300,000 while spending billions on armour, aircraft, missiles and drones.

It will create six armoured divisions, dwarfing the two each held by France and Germany along with the single UK division.

As its military power grows, Poland will also be able to exert more influence in the political domain, which will have an impact on European politics, experts have said.

Transformative moment

While Poland’s proximity to Russia means its military has always been strong, the Ukraine invasion has fundamentally changed Warsaw’s thinking.

“It has been a transformative moment with a rapid increase in defence spending,” said Brig Ben Barry, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank. “The Polish reading of Ukraine is that Russia is going to be profoundly hostile for a long time and they see the lessons learnt by Ukraine.”

He added that Poland’s plans to increase its armoured divisions from four to six demonstrated it was “firing up massive amount of heavy metals”.

Former Nato spokesman Jamie Shea agreed. “Poland will become the strongest military power on land in central and Eastern Europe,” he said.

Heavy metal

That “heavy metal” has already arrived in the form of 33 new M1 Abrams this month as part of a $4.9 billion order of 250 that replaces a similar number of Russia-made T-72 tanks.

But the major acquisition is 1,000 K2 Black Panther main battle tanks purchased from South Korea, the first 10 of which have already arrived. A factory in Poland will open to build at least 800 of the tanks under licence over the next decade.

Another $10 billion order has also gone in for missiles including 468 HIMARS rocket launchers that have proved so effective in Ukraine alongside 218 of the K-239 Chunmoo South Korean equivalent.

In addition, the Poles have expressed an interest in buying 100 Apache attack helicopters and leasing MQ-9 Reaper attack drones.

“The Polish army must be so powerful that it does not have to fight due to its strength alone,” said Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, as Poland celebrated its independence day in November last year.

Land superpower

Last year its defence minister, who has seen his budget more than double to 5 per cent of GDP, promised it would have “the most powerful land forces in Europe”.

Dr Shea, also Nato’s former deputy assistant secretary general, agreed it was on track to become the strongest army in Europe.

“Poland is now emerging as the land superpower in central and Eastern Europe,” said Dr Shea. “With all its acquisitions it will end up with more tanks than the UK, Germany, France and Italy combined, which would be quite remarkable.”

A recent report released by IISS stressed that Poland’s borders with Germany, Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave and Belarus made it “a key actor in the defence of north-east Europe”.

With the Wagner Group of mercenaries decamping to Belarus, along with Moscow threatening to station nuclear missiles in the country on Poland’s eastern flank, there is widespread popular support for the rise in defence spending.

That may also assist the right-wing Law and Justice party, which faces a general election in Poland later this year.

Lead role?

If Poland achieves its superpower status then questions will be asked on whether it will want to take a “leading role” in Nato security, particularly in the Baltics and Nordic states, said Alice Billon Galland of the Chatham House think tank.

“There is a question that if Poland does have more power and more capability what does it intend to do in the alliance?” she said. “Will this mean more Polish influence on the alliance and its strategic leadership?”

She also warned that the spending was a “huge step up in the budget” with a “big financial commitment from Poland” although the increases had been welcomed by the Polish people.

Dr Shea suggested that France, Germany and Poland could come together to form a framework for the conventional defence of the eastern flank, alongside new Nato member Finland’s powerful army of four divisions.

“What Poland is doing is very welcome but it won't make sense going it alone,” he said.

Updated: July 10, 2023, 7:23 AM