Saturday, 16 August 2014

Defending Poland, contributing to NATO

On a day when another unmarked, denied, convoy of armoured fighting vehicles entered eastern Ukraine from Russia, Poland's armed forces day parade had the effect of focusing the nation's mind on defence. The crowds were huge. There was no 'nutty element' selling pamphlets about conspiracy or waving banners insulting the government. This was mainstream Poland - numerous, strong. In communist days, mobilising the masses the attend May Day rallies was not easy. Today, Poles will willingly come together to commemorate significant historical events.

President Komorowski's speech (full text in Polish here) passed without any booing or negative comments. Indeed, I had not a single, minor policy quibble with with any word of the speech. After four years in office, he remains a popular and unifying head of state; I cannot see him losing the next presidential election.

I positioned myself around the half-way point of parade, on Pl. Na Rozdrożu, standing on the entrance to a pedestrian underpass to give me a slightly better vantage point. However, this meant missing out on seeing the best kit, the Leopard 2 A5s recently acquired by the Polish Army, and the Krab self-propelled howitzer. Also in the parade were detachments of American and Canadian troops, currently stationed in Poland.

The last time I attended this event, back in 2007, I was stationed nearer the Belweder palace... but there was one drawback with such a location...

Some half an hour before the parade started, the drivers of the armoured fighting vehicles standing between Pl. Na Rozdrożu and Belweder were given the order to start their engines (above). Until they got going, the tanks and self-propelled guns were pumping out clouds of fumes. Not pleasant.

The equipment standing in front of me was smaller and cleaner; the vintage tanks (see previous post) didn't start their engines until the whole modern army parade had passed. When I say 'modern' I mean 'post-war'; the Polish armed forces currently still rely for around two-thirds of their hardware on Soviet-era kit. By 2020, the proportions should be other way around, but that requires spending many billions of euros on acquisition of modern, western-designed hardware.

In the meantime - this (below) is the Osa ('wasp') anti-aircraft system. In use since the early 1970s, it is considered out of date in terms of dealing with modern military aircrafts' electronic countermeasure systems.

A large number of HUMVEEs rolled by - Poland has over 250 of these multi-purpose soft-skinned vehicles. Modern asymmetric warfare has pushed them back from the front line, where mine and ambush resistant vehicles (MRAPS) are called for. The parade included desert-painted and green-painted examples.

Below: the Czechoslovakian-built DANA self-propelled 152mm howitzer dates back to 1977. Poland's army has 111 of these unusual vehicles - unusual in that it is wheeled rather than tracked.

The Langusta ('lobster', below) is essentially a modernised, Polish-built version of the Soviet Grad multiple rocket launcher, mounted on a Jelcz truck.

Another hybrid, the Rosomak ('wolverine') armoured personnel carrier (below). The hull is a licence-made Finnish Patria APC, adapted to suit Polish requirements and fitted with an Italian turret.

Below: how do you get a 60-tonne tank over a 20-metre-wide gap? The Daglesia ('Douglas-fir', below) provides the answer - this bridgelayer is said to be the most modern in the world. Also available on caterpillar tracks.

The crowds that watched the parade drift slowly away, satisfied that Poland has the will and the wherewithal to defend itself against the type of incursion that Ukraine is currently facing. Poland has two huge pluses - it is part of NATO and part of the European Union. Poland must pay its way - at least 2% of its GDP should be spent on defence. Not a grosz less.

This time two years ago:
Balloon over Warsaw

This time four years ago:
Happiness, Polish-style

This time five years ago:
And watch the river flow...

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