moja polska zbrojna
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

Lessons from the Frontline

Ukraine has bought us time. Military professionals keep saying that now we have to use it the best we can. Analysts are closely monitoring the situation behind our eastern border, drawing conclusions and trying to implement them in training.

May 2022. Tanks and carriers from the 10th Armored Cavalry Brigade set off early in the morning. Destination: training ground in Drawsko Pomorskie. This time without using railroad transport or low-chassis platforms, but on their own, through forests and across fields – following the so-called Hannibal’s route. The route was created at the turn of the 1970s and 1980s and passed mainly through areas belonging to the military. After the political transformation, a large part of these areas was transferred into the hands of municipalities, and the route fell into oblivion. A few years ago it was dusted off. The first time tanks covered a section of it was in 2019 on the occasion of the Borsuk 2019 exercise. Three years later, soldiers received orders to cover the entire route, which is quite an undertaking. “It is 360 km from Świętoszów to Drawsko Pomorskie. The route mostly leads along forest tracts, but here and there it goes through various towns. Sometimes we drove literally 10 meters from the buildings. On top of that, we had to cross a busy national road,” recalls LtCol Michał Fabiszewski, who commands the 1st Tank Battalion of the 10th Armored Cavalry Brigade, and has traveled the Hannibal’s route twice. “Such transit requires making many arrangements with the State Forests, the General Directorate for National Roads and Highways, local governments. We have to decide where to refuel, where to spend the night, how to secure assistance in case of equipment malfunction or accident. To put it shortly: it's a huge logistical undertaking,” emphasizes the officer. It took the soldiers four days to cover the route. Luckily, there were no major problems on the way.

The passage of tanks along Hannibal’s route was one of the elements of the Defender Europe 2022 international exercise. When the soldiers were setting off for the training grounds, the full-scale war in Ukraine had already been going on for several months. A military confrontation between the West and Russia ceased to be a purely theoretical issue. NATO has therefore redefined its goals, and the increasingly complicated international situation has translated into changes in the training of allied troops, among other things. In this context, the Leopard rally through Poland on dirt roads is a symbolic image.

REKLAMA

Full-Scale NATO

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has caused NATO to turn its attention to the East. The Alliance has changed its assumptions as to defending member states located on its flanks. Until recently, planners assumed that the adversary might occupy some of their territories, which would later be retaken. However, the crimes committed by the Russians in Bucha or Irpin prompted a revision of these assumptions. Now Western decision-makers are talking about defending every bit of NATO territory. The alliance has reinforced the troops deployed several years ago on the eastern flank and exercises there virtually non-stop. The scenarios of these exercises are becoming more and more complex, and the scale of maneuvers is constantly increasing.

“An important caesura was Defender Europe 2020. Americans, for the first time since the end of the Cold War planned to move a full armored division across the Atlantic. According to the scenario of the maneuvers, the soldiers were to get to the eastern flank and support the troops fighting there. Unfortunately, the plans were disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. The exercise was carried out, but its extent was limited,” emphasizes Jacek Tarociński, an analyst for the Center for Eastern Studies. The original objectives were fully realized only in 2023, when NATO forces conducted the largest series of exercises in Europe since the fall of the Warsaw Pact. Some of them were linked to Defender, while others, such as the Polish Anakonda, the Swedish Aurora or BALTOPS, held at sea, were separate undertakings. However, all of them created a coherent whole. “According to the scenario, the war began in the Baltic Sea. NATO helped to defend Gotland, and airborne troops had to capture outposts on the eastern flank and hold them until the arrival of reinforcements from deep within Europe. The Alliance also moved forces to the south of Europe – to the Western Balkans and to Romania, where it deployed a US rocket artillery brigade with M270 MLRS long-distance launchers,” enumerates Tarociński.

Steadfast Defender 2024, maneuvers that began in the second half of January and will last until May, have an even greater magnitude. A total of over 90,000 soldiers from all NATO states and Sweden will take part in the exercise. Again, on the side of the Alliance, it will be the largest number of participants since the end of the Cold War. However, breaking records is not what Steadfast Defender is about. “This series of exercises is an occasion to test the already partially implemented regional defense plans that were approved during the last NATO summit in Vilnius,” explains Tarociński and concludes: “The Alliance has for good returned to full-scale maneuvers that include all operational domains – from air space, through land and sea, to cyber space.”

The Polish army is an integral part of this change. “We have coordinated our training with the activities of the allies, focusing on NATO's eastern flank. The key issue for us is building interoperability,” admits Col Robert Polak, deputy training inspector at the Armed Forces General Command. Units are practicing rapid redeployment of forces at long distances. More and more often, military columns can be seen on public roads. For example, during the last edition of Anakonda, subunits of the 18th Mechanized Division moved along Poland’s eastern border, and several days before the beginning of the Slovak Shield 2023 exercise, Rosomak wheeled armored carriers of the 17th Wielkopolska Mechanized Brigade travelled from Wędrzyn to Zvolen in Slovakia. Simultaneously, military planners are trying to go beyond the traditional patterns, and that is why tanks can be seen on forest tracts. Hannibal’s route is only one example. At the end of February, the largest exercise of the Polish Army, Dragon 2024, will commence. The troops of the 11th Lubuska Armored Cavalry Division will be among the forces that will head east. “Their destination will be the training grounds in Nowa Dęba and Bemowo Piskie. On the way, the subunits will cross the Vistula river. We also want the tanks, armored carriers and other military vehicles to cover a 300-km distance on their own in varied terrain: moving not only on public roads, but also tracts leading through fields and forests,” says Polak.

The redeployment itself is also organized in a slightly different way than before. The columns are usually more dispersed, moving on various roads, so that when one is blocked, it does not stop the entire march. This is exactly what happened to Russians during the initial days of the invasion, when they got stuck north of Kyiv. However, the conclusions drawn from the war translate to much more than organizing extensive maneuvers. When it comes to training, they can be seen at virtually every level.

Looking for Weak Points

The change of course in the training of the Polish Army already began quite a few years ago. After the outbreak of a full-scale war in Ukraine, however, the process significantly accelerated. Today, the military has no doubts: it is time to abandon the typical mission training and prepare the army for the most important thing – defending its own territory. “We draw extensively from what is happening across our eastern border. We use the experiences of the Ukrainian forces, implement new solutions, modify training programs,” stresses MajGen Arkadiusz Szkutnik, commander of the 18th Mechanized Division. The general, while still serving at the General Staff, was engaged, among other things, in analyzing military operations in Ukraine and the consequences that the conflict could have for Poland and our armed forces. He is now transferring the experience he gained then to the division level and below.

The 18th Mechanized Division is taking part in a series of experimental exercises that aim at testing both new types of armament and innovative combat techniques. The project was initiated two years ago by the General Staff, and the division’s command, in turn, selected a battalion strong unit (the so-called Future Task Force) to take part in it. So far, two exercises (referred to as FEX – Field Experimental Exercise) have been conducted. During training ground practice the soldiers tested technological innovations. They had at their disposal the most advanced equipment available to the Polish Army: Rosomaks, Krabs, Raks, Poprads, Abrams tanks, unmanned land and air vehicles, and much more. “The scenario is usually based on events from the Ukrainian front. The soldiers conduct reconnaissance, strike the enemy deep within the formation, as well as in the area of approach and deployment. They deal with maneuver defense, detecting and combating drones. We are testing various variants of operation – both those that work well in Ukraine and those that fail on the front. We do not hesitate to adopt even the most pessimistic assumptions,” explains Szkutnik. The training troops paid a lot of attention to battlefield management systems (BMS). They checked the advantage that can be gained by sending and receiving information in real time by individual soldiers. Both the Polish and the Ukrainian forces use various communication means, such as Starlink satellite internet. The 18th Mechanized Division already has several sets of Starlink. However, the key issue during FEX was appropriate centering of forces. “The conclusions drawn from the front are that it’s not advisable to operate with entire subdivisions or squadrons, and dispersion must be applied not only to fire posts but also command positions,” explains Szkutnik. Such strategy helps to become a more difficult target for the enemy, so the soldiers practiced how to operate in smaller formations, while maintaining communications and precisely directing artillery fire with the support of UAVs.

The 18th Mechanized Division more and more often operates also outside military training centers, using civilian infrastructure. Command posts are organized inside abandoned buildings, old warehouses or schools. “We send drones to fly over such positions and check what gives us away. We have also worked with F-16 equipped with reconnaissance pods. Based on photos taken from the air, we assess the performance of camouflage nets or the extent in which things like, for instance, barbed wire, give away our presence. We look for weak spots,” says Szkutnik.

Dispersion, going outside the training grounds, close cooperation of different types of forces – others also exercise in this way. New ideas are put into practice both during small trainings of subunits and large-scale undertakings. There are a lot of examples, such as the troops of the 12th Mechanized Brigade and the 7th Coastal Defense Brigade surrounding saboteurs in the Polish-Belarusian border area, a company of motorized infantry from the 17th Wielkopolska Mechanized Brigade penetrating the forests around the village of Święty Wojciech in Lubuskie, but also air force aircraft, which in autumn 2023, after a 20-year break, landed on a highway strip marked out on a public road. This time the exercise took place in Wielbark in Mazury, and involved both pilots of combat F-16s and MiG-29s, and transport C-295M CASAs and C-130 Hercules.

Realistic Scenarios

Subdivisions of the 16th Mechanized Division also fall within this order. “During the Zalew 2023 exercise, we operated near the border with the Russian Królewiec Oblast, and above all on the Vistula Spit,” recalls Col Dariusz Dróżdż, head of training at the 16th Mechanized Division. “According to the scenario, the enemy seized the captain's office at the Nowy Świat port. Our soldiers had to recapture the facility and free the hostages. During the exercise, we cooperated, among others, with the navy, air force and ground forces aviation,” he explains.

Assigning military tasks outside the training ground is intended to help break patterns. The army should be mobile, operate unconventionally, and prepare for all sorts of possible scenarios. In the Vistula Spit exercises alone, there are at least a few patterns known from the war in the east. Before regular army entered Ukraine, Russia had intensified hybrid operations there. At that time, but also later, during the full-scale invasion, one of the main targets were critical infrastructure facilities – power plants, railroad hubs, ports. Destroying them was supposed to paralyze Ukraine's economy, making the state and, by extension, the military, inefficient. The Polish army is trying to learn this lesson and is preparing to protect such facilities. Territorial defense troops in particular can play an important part here. “Soldiers of various Territorial Defense Forces (TDF) brigades are intensively training the defense of critical infrastructure, particularly facilities connected with the power supply network. The idea is to cooperate with the operators of such systems to ensure their uninterrupted work during a possible conflict,” informs LtCol Robert Pękala, spokesperson for TDF. Of course, combating hybrid threats is only the first step. Readiness for an open confrontation with the regular army is much more important. “We recognize the growing importance of unmanned reconnaissance and information circulation systems on the battlefield. This is what the Mazury 2023 exercise was devoted to. The war has also proved that the role of artillery is by no means diminishing. Therefore, our division has undergone some structural changes – the artillery regiment was transformed into a brigade. We also put more emphasis on urban combat now. After all, a large part of the fighting in Ukraine is taking place in urban areas: city streets or factories,” enumerates Dróżdż. “Our analysts are closely observing the situation across the eastern border and drawing conclusions. We are in constant contact with the 11th Lubuska Armored Cavalry Division, which is responsible for training Ukrainian soldiers, because we also want to gain knowledge directly from them. We are creating a database, and we are trying to operate on the basis of this database,” he adds.

Entrench Yourself Where You Stand

Meanwhile, in recent months, the war in Ukraine has changed its face. The dynamics of operations has decreased, the front has come to a standstill, the soldiers are practically stuck in their positions. Long lines of fortifications have been set up on both sides. The Polish army should also be ready for such a scenario in the event of a conflict. “Trenches... Well, yes, this is definitely a lesson from the front. Just three years ago it seemed like an archaism,” admits Col Szymon Noworyta, commander of the 6th Airborne Battalion from Gliwice.

Of course, one could say that according to the regulations, soldiers should practice entrenchment from their first days of service, but theory has not always gone hand in hand with practice. After all, for years the army has been preparing soldiers to counter asymmetric threats. Now, however, trench building has returned. “We are creating our own training facilities in garrisons to teach soldiers trench warfare tactics at squad, platoon and company level,” explains Noworyta. Exercises are conducted, for example, in the Błędów Desert, where two large lines of trenches, as well as connecting communication trenches, have been established. “We teach soldiers to operate in defense and attack, show how to conduct an assault. We have also returned to the principle: entrench yourself where you stand,” enumerates Pvt 1st Class Jakub Śmiechowski, deputy platoon commander of the 6th Battalion. The program of firing – from a rifle, a mortar or an RPG – has also been adjusted to operations in the trenches.

Paratroopers are not the only ones to practice trench warfare. Soldiers from other units – such as the 12th and 15th Mechanized Divisions – also practice these skills. “At the Krzekowo training ground, we have created an extensive trench network, which is used on a daily basis by the motorized infantry subunits of the 12th Mechanized Brigade. We also place even more emphasis than before on neutralizing improvised explosive devices,” admits Maj Błażej Łukaszewski, spokesperson for the 12th Mechanized Division in Szczecin.

Citizen Engagement

War is not only a matter of the professional army. It also affects civilians, who often have to get directly involved in defense operations. “Proper training of reserve soldiers is an extremely important issue,” admits Col Robert Polak of the Training Inspectorate at the Armed Forces General Command. In the case of the professional army, training with other uniformed services – police, firefighters, border guards – happens on a daily basis. An important link between the civilian and military worlds are the constantly expanding territorial defense forces. “An example for us can be the involvement of the Ukrainian territorial defense in the system of warning and alerting the civilians about airstrikes or contamination threats,” emphasizes LtCol Pękala. Contamination analysis centers, which will form a part of the national system, are being created in TDF. “In order to obtain full readiness, we definitely need training and appropriate equipment, but this is exactly what we strive for,” he adds. This is not all. “In Ukraine, soldiers use a wide variety of equipment. It is not uncommon for them to adapt civilian vehicles to their needs. We want our soldiers to be able to handle such situations if necessary, to be versatile, so we also prepare them for that during trainings,” explains Pękala.
Military professionals admit that the changes in the training of the Polish army are not really a revolution. “It is more of an evolution. Nevertheless, the war in Ukraine and the related procurement of modern weapons inevitably accelerated the process,” admits Polak. Lessons learned from the Ukrainian experience are to help the Polish army develop new capabilities that will enable it to avoid potential threats, or, if necessary, to effectively tackle them. “As cruel as this sounds, the longer Ukraine fights, the more time we have to build a strong army. Simply put, the Ukrainian forces are buying us time, and we have to make the best use of it,” concludes Szkutnik.


 

MajGen ARKADIUSZ SZKUTNIK, commander of the 18th Mechanized Division: “As cruel as this sounds, the longer Ukraine fights, the more time we have to build a strong army. Simply put, the Ukrainian forces are buying us time, and we have to make the best use of it.”

JACEK TAROCIŃSKI, an analyst for the Center for Eastern Studies: “The Alliance has for good returned to full-scale maneuvers that include all operational domains – from air space, through land and sea, to cyber space.”

The war in Ukraine has changed its face. The dynamics of operations has decreased, the front has come to a standstill, the soldiers are practically stuck in their positions. Long lines of fortifications have been set up on both sides. The Polish army should also be ready for such a scenario.


 

COMMENTARY

Marek Wrzosek
The Russians have tried to implement the so-called Gerasimov Doctrine in Ukraine, but it has not led to obtaining the desired effect [the doctrine involves conducting warfare in various domains, including non-military means, such as disinformation or destabilization of the region]. For example, they have failed to gain superiority in the information sphere. Although the war has been going on for two years now, Ukraine's voice continues to be heard worldwide, despite all efforts of the Russians to marginalize it. The Ukrainians have definitely done their homework from the time of the annexation of Crimea.
So far, the Russian army has also failed to accomplish its original military objectives of overthrowing the government in Kyiv and establishing control over all of Ukraine. Even so, despite the clearly drawn line of military contact, the war has covered the entire Ukrainian territory. Missiles fired from aircraft or ships can at any time hit targets in Kyiv, Lviv or Vinnytsia, which are, after all, far from the front. Hence, on a certain level, we are dealing with a non-contact war, which makes us realize the importance of air and missile defense.

On the other hand, the conflict has shown that the importance of traditional artillery is not diminishing. Every day the armies fighting in Ukraine use up such enormous amounts of ammunition that even Russia, which after all has been preparing for the confrontation for years, has to support itself with imports from North Korea, Iran and possibly even China. Another notable thing is the almost complete absence of air combat. The Russians, who theoretically have considerable superiority in terms of air force, rarely send their aircraft to the battlefield. Such actions are discouraged by the aforementioned air defense, which is certainly one of the Ukrainian army's main assets. The Russians apparently fear that aircraft could become an easy target, so they use them to a limited extent.

Prof Marek Wrzosek is a lecturer at the Military Faculty of the War Studies University.


 

LtCol ROBERT PĘKALA, spokesperson for Territorial Defense Forces: “Soldiers of various Territorial Defense Forces brigades are intensively training the defense of critical infrastructure, particularly facilities connected with the power supply network. The idea is to cooperate with the operators of such systems to ensure their uninterrupted work during a possible conflict.”

Red Tactics, or Battlefield Medicine

The Russian-Ukrainian war is claiming a massive number of casualties. And while Russians often treat wounded soldiers as necessary evil, Ukrainians try to give them the best possible care. Soldiers' battlefield medicine skills have become fundamental in combat conditions. However, providing care to the wounded in Ukraine is particularly challenging, as medevac helicopters cannot be used to evacuate the injured, and due to artillery shelling, rapid evacuation by land is at times also impossible. Thus, battlefield rescuers need to know how to provide prolonged care to the wounded. They are also aware it is crucial to give medical training to as many soldiers as possible.
Due to the situation on the Ukrainian front, our army is also witnessing increased interest in medical training. Units are more and more often sending their soldiers to CLS (Combat Lifesaver) instructor courses at the Military Medical Training Center in Łódź, so that they can later conduct training for battlefield rescuers at their own subunits, or invite instructors from the Military Medical Training Center.

Red tactics is now an integral element of any training ground exercise. Troops practice the basics of first aid, medical evacuation and stopping hemorrhages. The fundamentals of battlefield medicine are taught to soldiers from line subunits, as well as those from commands and staffs. More and more units are also organizing medical training for military personnel.
Specialized training is also undergoing changes. According to the recommendations of the TCCC (Tactical Combat Casualty Care) committee, battlefield medicine courses for medical personnel will also be expanded. In line with the new curricula, military rescuers are to learn more about topics such as Prolonged Field Care (PFC) or administration of blood on the battlefield.

Łukasz Zalesiński, Magdalena Kowalska-Sendek

autor zdjęć: st. szer. Sławomir Kozioł

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