With Mariusz Błaszczak, Minister of National Defense, on the procurement of coastal defense ships and experience gained from the Gawron program, talks Krzysztof Wilewski.
The procurement of coastal defense ships code-named Miecznik will become a priority in the Navy modernization program. What type of vessels are they?
They are frigate class ships, which are to improve the capabilities of the Navy to observe and control sea waters, protect sea bases, counter surface, underwater and land targets in the coastal zone, as well as undertake naval air defense. To this end, the ships will be equipped with anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, water-to-water and water-to-land firing systems, and torpedoes for countering submarines. Miecznik will be a multi-role, universal ship with a powerful striking force.
In what extent will they be capable of countering targets located on land?
The project assumes fitting the ships with artillery systems and missiles capable of hitting targets on land. However, the final configuration of the vessels will be determined in the course of the ongoing procedure. Every type of armament has particular purpose. In the case of Miecznik, the fact that the platform is a frigate class ship offers a lot of possibilities but also sets some limitations due to the environment in which it will operate.
How many ships are we planning to procure and when would they enter service?
Procuring three ships for the Navy is a priority goal for the MoND and we want to achieve this goal as soon as possible. I expect they will be ordered in the 1+2 system, just like in the case of mine destroyers. Building a prototype vessel enables us to detect any errors early on, and avoid them when building two remaining serial vessels. The plan is to procure and finance three ships.
What is the procurement procedure?
A public procurement for acquiring three vessels will be directed to Polish defense industry companies. We want the ships for our Navy to be produced in Polish shipyards – not only the ones that are part of the Polish Armaments Group (Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa – PGZ), but also private. A similar cooperation on building mine destroyers was very successful. The contractor or contractors will execute the task with the support of a foreign partner, and the extent of cooperation will be determined in detail in the course of the procedure. One of the roles of the foreign partner will be the transfer of technology and knowledge necessary to build and equip the ship, which will enable the Polish entities to take responsibility for the whole life cycle of the vessels. It is a considerable investment which offers new possibilities.
Will the Ministry choose the foreign partner alone or approve PGZ’s choice?
The Ministry will evaluate possible versions of cooperation between the contractor and the foreign partner. We will essentially focus on choosing the best offer from the perspective of the user, i.e. the Navy. Now we are going to wait for the offers of the Polish industry supported with the experience of the foreign partner. The user’s priority is complementarity of the systems and interconnecting them in a way to create a smoothly functioning and coherent organism. This will be the responsibility of the Polish shipyards and it might depend on the chosen form of cooperation. Therefore, it will be the key factor in making the final decision.
You have announced that the contract for Miecznik ships would be signed in the middle of this year. Is this still a likely date?
I really want the contract to be prepared, i.a. in terms of the formal and legal requirements, as soon as possible, but I also want it to be possibly the most beneficial for the Polish Armed Forces. It has to be a chance for the development of the Polish shipbuilding industry. My setting this date is to be a motivating factor for all the parties, as well as a signal that we don’t have any more time to put off the issue of the Navy. Let me remind you that the implementation of the Miecznik program is compliant with Poland’s Strategic Concept for Maritime Security commissioned by President Andrzej Duda. I very much hope that the contract will be signed before the end of the first half of 2021.
The initiation of the Miecznik program makes people remember the failure of Gawron. What conclusions were drawn from that lesson?
There is no danger that the Gawron program scenario will repeat itself. The main problem was that Gawron lacked stable financing, but there were also many additional factors which caused its distortion, some of them being the changes in the planned purpose of the ship, construction requirements, or simply the lack of confidence in making decisions. This time, we know the requirements of the project, we know there will be three vessels built in the already tested 1+2 system. Adding the experience gained during building mine destroyers, we can have a lot of faith in creating a Polish product, in Polish shipyards and for Polish seamen. We need to think about the Miecznik project not in the perspective of a few upcoming months, but decades. We are not mainly focused on the capability to build a functional vessel in a short time, but on the long-term possibility to operate, service and repair it, and ultimately also to modernize it.
Was it the system of procuring military equipment that failed in the case of Gawron? Or was it the seamen who, putting it simply, wanted their new ship to have everything possible?
The answer lies somewhere in the middle. That’s why this time I’ll supervise the whole process myself and I won’t allow for overpricing or complications caused by artificial modifications or forcing up the requirements for the new vessel. There was enough time given to the Navy to determine their requirements. Now it is about preventing changes unimportant to the combat value of the ship, which could cause delays to the project. I will also closely watch the entities taking part in the program as regards the pricing of particular services, as well as additional costs, should they arise in the later phases of the project. These were the two main reasons for the failure of the Gawron program.
We definitely need Miecznik ships, but recently there have been voices saying that the situation of the submarine fleet is dramatic. Why are there such delays in the Orka program?
In November 2019, I confirmed the MoND was negotiating the procurement of two used ships from Sweden as a bridging solution until the submarines of the Orka program enter service in the Navy. The negotiations – not by our fault – have reached an impasse, but they have not been ended. The procurement of a new type of submarines has been included in the Technical Modernization Plan for 2021–2035, also taking into account the year 2020.
autor zdjęć: Michał Niwicz