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Od 25 maja 2018 r. obowiązuje w Polsce Rozporządzenie Parlamentu Europejskiego i Rady (UE) 2016/679 z dnia 27 kwietnia 2016 r. w sprawie ochrony osób fizycznych w związku z przetwarzaniem danych osobowych i w sprawie swobodnego przepływu takich danych oraz uchylenia dyrektywy 95/46/WE (ogólne rozporządzenie o ochronie danych, zwane także RODO).

W związku z powyższym przygotowaliśmy dla Państwa informacje dotyczące przetwarzania przez Wojskowy Instytut Wydawniczy Państwa danych osobowych. Prosimy o zapoznanie się z nimi: Polityka przetwarzania danych.

Prosimy o zaakceptowanie warunków przetwarzania danych osobowych przez Wojskowych Instytut Wydawniczy – Akceptuję

Strong Together

NATO's Collective Air Defense is the essence of the idea behind the creation of the North Atlantic Alliance – together we are stronger. The new Polish air defense system will be its key component.

Italian pilots, stationed at the 22nd Tactical Air Base in Malbork as part of the NATO Air Policing mission, responded on September 29, September 30 and October 5, 2022 in an alert mode to a “scramble” signal, indicating that Poland's airspace may have been violated. On each occasion, four Russian fighter jets, flying in international space with their transponders turned off and failing to respond to NATO’s radio communication attempts, changed their flight path and turned back to Kaliningrad only after coming into direct contact with the Italian aircraft.

Although more of such incidents have been reported, at the turn of September and October 2022 the Russian aviation was particularly active. Pilots of Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force), sitting at the controls of Eurofighter F-2000A aircraft, during their four-month stay in Poland (duty lasted until the end of November 2022) set off, combat ready, to meet Russian aircraft as many as 23 times, and spent over 500 hours in the air, patrolling the airspace over Poland and the Baltic States.

Someone might ask why Italian soldiers would protect the airspace over Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The answer is simple – their presence in our country as part of the Air Policing mission is the best showcase of the idea of NATO’s Collective Air Defense, which was one of the cornerstones of the forming North Atlantic Alliance.

In order to better understand the idea behind it, one needs to be aware of what air defense actually is. It is a part of the security system of every country in the world, referring to all political-military processes related to the protection and defense of a given country's airspace. However, it is not only a matter of securing the state against means of aerial attack, i.e. enemy military aircraft (air defense) or cruise or ballistic missiles (missile defense). An airborne threat requiring the state's intervention – using not only the military, but also, for example, emergency management services or rescue services – is also a civilian aircraft, or even a balloon, that might fall on buildings, threatening the lives and health of citizens.

In order for an air defense system to be effective, it must be equipped with the right tools. Although the structure and organization of such a system may vary from country to country, it is generally made up of radio-technical troops, whose task is to detect all flying objects that violate a given airspace; air force, assigned to conduct defensive and offensive operations; and air defense troops from all types of forces.

All for One, One for All

From today's perspective, it is clear why NATO countries collectively defend the airspace of their members and allies. They spend billions of euros or dollars not only on the necessary command and reconnaissance infrastructure – including various types of radars, AWACS reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft, AEGIS system ships and reconnaissance satellites. They also develop combat-defense components – all kinds of aircraft, as well as artillery and anti-aircraft and anti-missile weapons. They do this because by combining the potential of NATO's individual members, they achieve a synergistic effect – this is how the world's most powerful defense pact works. However, NATO has not always been so unanimous in its assessment of air threats.

When the process of building the Alliance began, some countries, particularly from Western Europe (Germany, the Netherlands), cared more about collective air defense, while others, mainly from Southern Europe (Italy, Spain) cared considerably less. The United States acted as a common-sense peacemaker in this regard. In 1955, the Alliance decided to establish a NATO Integrated Air Defense System (NATINADS), the pillars of which were four air defense areas subordinate to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). However, this did not prevent three countries operating as a separate group – Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands – from deciding in 1958 to establish a tri-national air defense system (Air Defence Ground Environment – ADGE).

Fortunately, work on the NATO-wide system continued, and in 1962 the solution, named the NATO Air Defense Ground Environment (NADGE), reached initial operational readiness. Together with the development of technology, the system was expanded to include new capabilities in the areas of command and control, reconnaissance and striking, and in order to reflect this development, it was renamed the NATO Integrated Air Defense System (NATIADS).

Shifting the Center of Balance

The NATIADS system was primarily oriented towards defense against aerial vehicles. The factor forcing NATO to change its air defense philosophy was the political transformation that took place in European countries in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The USSR ceased to pose a military threat to many countries, and authoritarian countries with chemical and nuclear weapons or those aspiring to possess them, such as Iran, Iraq, Syria and North Korea, moved strongly up the list of potential adversaries. Since they posed a threat to NATO primarily due to the use of Tactical Ballistic Missiles (TBMs) with a range of up to 3,500 kilometers, the Alliance decided to significantly strengthen its ability to defend against such threats – and it wanted to do so collectively.

The decisions to give priority to developing Allied anti-missile capabilities were made at the Prague NATO Summit in 2002. Six years later, in 2008 in Bucharest, NATO leaders agreed for the US anti-missile installations built in Europe (the US eventually identified their location in Turkey, Romania and Poland) to be part of the NATO air defense system. Two years later, in 2010 in Lisbon, it was decided to formally transform NATIADS into NATINAMDS (NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defense System), which today still remains the basis of the Alliance's collective air defense.

Element of the System

This NATO umbrella also provides protection to Poland, and our national air defense system is one of its components. Of course, in peacetime, the Minister of National Defense and the Operational Commander of the Branches of the Armed Forces, who performs tasks in this regard on his behalf, are responsible for protecting the national border from any means of air attack. They are the ones who decide which components of our armed forces are delegated (in wartime and peacetime) to serve under the command of NATO's NATINAMDS.

What is Poland's role in this aerial umbrella? Very important – and it has been so since the very beginning of our membership in NATO. When our country joined the Alliance in 1999, on the one hand, in terms of air defense, we had nothing to be ashamed of, immediately becoming one of NATO's leaders, but on the other hand, in some respects, we ranked at the very end of the list, declaring significant improvement.

The weakness of the Polish Armed Forces in terms of air defense was definitely our air force. The Allies highly assessed the MiG-29 aircraft which formed the backbone of our fighter aviation. However, we had far too few of them – considering Polish, and by extension NATO, needs. That is why one of the first modernization decisions taken after joining the Alliance was to launch a procedure for the procurement of modern multirole aircraft, and the machines that were eventually chosen and purchased were the American F-16s.

The area of air defense that we could actually be proud of was anti-aircraft troops. In 1999, the army’s anti-aircraft regiments worked with the 9K33M2/M3 Osa and the 2K12 Kub missile systems, which can strike targets 10 km and 24 km away, while our one air defense missile brigade, which is part of the air force, had S-125 Newa missile sets (25 km range) and S-200WE Wega missile sets (with a range of about 240 km). The Polish military had a lot of equipment in the so-called very short-range tier, which definitely distinguished us from the rest of NATO states. We had hundreds of worn-out Strzała-2M launchers in the line, and on top of that, in 1995, the army introduced into service Grom portable anti-aircraft missile sets, which, in the experts' opinion, were the most advanced weapon systems of this class at the time.

Rivers of Various Speed

Unfortunately, military equipment ages very quickly. The progress made at the turn of the century in the fields of radiolocation, computerization and missile technology was so great that a decade after joining NATO, our air defense capabilities proved insufficient. Particularly when it came to short- and medium-range air defense. Therefore, in 2008, a decision was made to build a new three-tier air defense system.

It was to consist of three subsystems – VSHORAD (Very Short Range Air Defense, 5-6 km), SHORAD (Short Range Air Defense, up to 25 km), and MRAD (Medium Range Air Defense, up to 100 km). The weapons of VSHORAD were to be Pilica missile and artillery sets, Poprad self-propelled missile sets and Grom/Piorun hand-held missile launchers. The SHORAD system was to be based on missile sets code-named “Narew,” while MRAD was to be based on missile sets code-named “Wisła.”

Unfortunately, the air defense modernization programs bearing the names of Poland's largest rivers did not have the fast “current” expected by the military. The lowest tier – VSHORAD – was handled most quickly. A contract was signed in 2015 for the delivery of around 80 Poprads, in November 2016 for six batteries of the Pilica missile and artillery system, and in December 2016 for 1,300 Piorun rockets and 420 launchers.

Later came the time for the other two tiers of the system, MRAD and SHORAD. A contract for two batteries of the Wisła system was signed in March 2018, and a framework contract for the delivery of 23 Narew missile sets was signed in September 2021. In April 2022, the Ministry of National Defense decided it was necessary to accelerate deliveries of the system, and a contract was signed for the delivery (before the end of 2022) of two batteries of small Narew (named so because it consists of the target missile sets armed with CAMM missiles with a range of 25 km, but with temporary radars to be replaced later with more advanced solutions, and a Polish command system). However, this was not the end of the acceleration. In May 2022, the Polish government sent to the US government a letter of inquiry regarding the procurement of six more batteries of the Patriot system, belonging to the medium-range tier.

Breakthrough Capabilities

Col Michał Marciniak, representative of the Minister of National Defense for the construction of an integrated air and missile defense system, says that after years of waiting, planning and contracting, the country's new integrated air and missile defense system is finally taking tangible shape. In late September/early October 2022, the first small Narew battery was delivered to the Polish Armed Forces, more specifically to the 18th Anti-Aircraft Regiment from Sitaniec. A few weeks later, elements of the first Wisła battery arrived in Poland. Currently, in accordance with American procedures, they are undergoing an integration process at the training ground near Toruń, before their formal implementation into service in the Polish army.

The two Patriot system batteries ordered by Poland will ultimately equip the 37th Air Defense Missile Squadron in Sochaczew, which is part of the 3rd Warsaw Air Defense Missile Brigade. “Thanks to this modern equipment, our unit will increase its capabilities related to protecting troops and facilities from reconnaissance and airstrikes, as well as its capability to detect, recognize and strike targets,” enumerates Lt Paweł Kłosowski, the brigade's press officer. However, in order for the new equipment to be used as effectively as possible, the army had to prepare for its implementation. In the unit itself, a series of investments were made to ensure adequate space to handle the equipment, and trainings were organized for soldiers who will be responsible for the process. As Lt Kłosowski explains, it was the acquisition of personnel that proved to be the biggest challenge for the 3rd Brigade. “The team operating advanced equipment must have extensive knowledge of, among other things, computer science, mechanics and electronics. On top of that, every soldier, regardless of whether he serves in the corps of privates, non-commissioned officers or officers, must speak very good English,” he explains. That is why, since 2020, soldiers from the 3rd Brigade have been participating in trainings on the operation and construction of the Patriot system in the United States.

According to the minister's representative, Col Michał Marciniak, the new Polish air defense system will be one of the most modern in the world. Experts agree with this opinion. Marcin Niedbała, an analyst on anti-aircraft armament, points out that the system is to have unique radiolocation capabilities. “We are the first in the world that decided to introduce on such a scale passive radiolocation, which is to be used not only to detect means of aerial attack, but also to control combat. This is a unique, very innovative approach,” he says.

The holistic idea for the new air defense system in terms of radiolocation is that all radars available in a given area will be used to detect targets and control combat, regardless of which tier of air defense they belong to. In practice, this means that radiolocation stations intended for the Wisła and Narew systems, the F-35 aircraft or even the Miecznik missile frigates will transmit data to any level of air defense, even the lowest one – VSHORAD. As Col Marciniak emphasizes, the holistic approach will also apply to the so-called effectors. This is because the accepted principle of “any radar, best missile” assumes that the best means of fire in terms of cost and effect will be used to destroy a given means of aerial attack – an aircraft, drone, helicopter, ballistic or cruise missile.

Evidence of Unity

Experts analyzing the new Polish air defense system emphasize that by initiating work on it, our country has shown far-sightedness, unlike many other NATO members who for years have been content with what they have and the air and missile umbrella provided to Europe by the United States.

“In the transatlantic sphere, there has long been a significant discrepancy between the capabilities of the US and the European NATO members in terms of air and missile defense capabilities,” points out Jacek Raubo, PhD, of the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, adding that Western European countries have changed their approach on this issue influenced by the experience of the war in Ukraine, and have begun to build up their armaments. Hence the decision of 12 NATO states and Finland, which wants to join the Alliance, that they want to jointly purchase short- and medium-range anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems. Poland has positively evaluated this initiative. However, it seems our country is not interested in it, since, according to experts, our program for the new integrated anti-aircraft and anti-missile system is much more advanced, by at least six or seven years.

NATO's response to the outbreak of war in Ukraine shows that the organization understands well why it was established. NATO states have significantly strengthened their presence on the eastern flank, sending their armed forces – soldiers, tanks, artillery – to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. They operate together at sea, guard cyberspace, but also conduct collective air defense, deploying their aircraft, as well as anti-aircraft and anti-missile sets in this part of the continent. Such activity is the true strength of the North Atlantic Alliance.

Krzysztof Wilewski Cooperation MM

autor zdjęć: Bartosz Bera, st. chor. sztab. mar. Arkadiusz Dwulatek/CC DORSZ, Sławomir Kozioł/18 DZ

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