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Poland thinks big as it looks nervously east

5th November 2021 - 14:00 GMT | by The Shephard News Team

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US Army HIMARS launchers, pictured during an exercise in Poland in 2017. (Photo: US Army/ Markus Rauchenberger)

Proposed legislation would see Poland more than double the size of its army, as the country seeks to enhance its deterrence capabilities in relatively short time.

An ambitious Homeland Defence Act in Poland would more than double its military headcount and fund more procurement of modern weaponry, as the country continues to keep a wary eye on neighbouring Russia.

Defence minister Mariusz Blaszczak announced the proposed legislation on 28 October, noting that it is geared towards encouraging longer terms of service for military personnel.

Jarosław Kaczynski, Polish deputy prime minister and chairman of the defence committee in the Polish Council of Ministers, explained that strengthening deterrence ‘in a relatively short time’ is the main objective of the reforms.

He attacked ‘Russia’s imperial ambitions’ as well as the challenge of defending the eastern border of Poland against incursions by illegal migrants.

‘If we want to avoid the worst, that is war, we have to act according to the old rule: “If you want peace, prepare for war,”’ Kaczynski added.

Military expansion goes hand-in-hand with greater defence procurement, so Kaczynski referred to a ‘need to purchase new armaments and equipment. We will do it in the US but also with the European and Polish defence industries’, he said.

Ongoing acquisition programmes cited by Kaczynski include the HIMARS multiple-launch rocket system, the F-35A Lightning II multirole combat aircraft and Abrams SEPv3 main battle tank – although he said procurement of long-range artillery systems is also a priority.

The act — which requires assent from parliament and President Andrzej Duda — would replace 14 existing pieces of legislation related to national defence and security, some of them dating back to the Cold War era.

One eye-catching component of the Homeland Defence Act is a proposal to more than double the size of the Polish Land Forces from about 110,000 today to at least 250,000 regular troops plus 50,000 in the Territorial Defence Forces (compared with 30,000 today).

This expansion in the size of the army would not be achieved by re-introducing conscription (abolished in 2009) but rather by increasing the term of service for volunteers.

Poland is understandably concerned about Russian expertise in hybrid warfare, so the proposed act also includes the creation of a new military cyber defence unit.

There is no firm indication as to how much it would cost to implement the Homeland Defence Act. At an estimated 2.1% for 2021, Poland already exceeds the 2% of GDP defence spending benchmark for NATO members so expansion on this scale would increase this proportion even further.

Blaszczak said that an Armed Forces Support Fund would be established to support the military expansion plan. The fund would be backed by government bonds, the state budget and profits from the central bank.

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