By Paolo Valpolini
Once again Poland choose US military hardware, renouncing to commonalities with the wide Leopard 2 community, going for the Abrams MBT, becoming the only European user of that tank. The announcement came from the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Jarosław Kaczyński, and the Minister of National Defence, Mr. Mariusz Błaszczak. According to a post on social media by the latter, Poland will acquire 250 M1A2 Abrams SEPv3 MBTs for around 6 billion US$, first deliveries being forecasted for 2022. The package will also include ammunition, as well as training and logistic support. The M1A2 SEPv3 is the latest configuration developed for the US Army and features technological advancements in communications, fire control and lethality, reliability, sustainment and fuel efficiency, plus upgraded armour. Moreover, the SEPv3 Abrams is designed to seamlessly accept future upgrades. The Polish Army has been looking for some time for a replacement of its ageing fleet of T-72 and PT-91 Twardy tanks. Beside those MBTs, Poland fields over 240 Leopard 2A4 and A5.
According to the Minister of Defence, the first Abrams will be assigned to the 1st Warsaw Armoured Brigade, based on the eastern outskirts of Warsaw. Its 1st and 2nd Tank battalions are currently equipped with Leopard 2A5s, which means their tanks will be assigned to other formations. The number of Abrams acquired suggests that two more battalions will be equipped with such tanks. According to Mr. Blaszczak some will go to the 19th Mechanised Brigade, based in Lublin, some 50 km from the Russian Border. The 19th Brigade was formed in late 2019 and should reach full operational capability in 2022; being a mechanised unit it includes one tank and two mechanised infantry battalions. Abrams for a fourth battalion will thus be available; should these go to the 21st Rifle Brigade, which also fields a single tank battalion, and is also part of the 18th Mechanised Division as the previously mentioned brigades, that Division would have in line only one type of main battle tank, the M1A2 SEPv3, easing the logistic burden. Moreover all those brigades are deployed along the eastern border, which makes sense from an operational standpoint as tank battalions equipped with the Abrams would be the ones closer to the potential threat. Should the Leopard 2A5 currently equipping the 1st Armoured brigade be assigned to the 34th Armoured Cavalry Brigade, which two tank battalions are currently equipped with T-72M1s, this would concentrate all Leopard 2s in the 11th Armoured Cavalry Division, the two other Leo 2 battalions being part of its 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade, easing here too the logistic problem. This would make sense also from a training and operational standpoint, as the 11th Division, being based in the western part of Poland, is the unit that more often trains together with German formations, so fielding the same battle tank, albeit in different versions, would help in terms of interoperability. PT-91s would then remain in service in the 12th Mechanised Division and in the 16th Mechanised Division, both deployed in the northern part of the country.
Considering the numbers announced by the two Polish politicians each M1A2 Abrams SEPv3 will cost 24 million US$, including its share of logistic, ammunition and training costs. No details were provided if the Abrams deal will fall under the Foreign Military Sales scheme, that already includes Javelin missiles and Javelin Command Launch Unit, the F-35A, the HIMARS, F-16 follow-on support, AIM-120C-7 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM), and the Integrated Air and Missile (IAMD) Battle Command System (IBCS)-enabled Patriot Configuration-3+ with Modernized Sensors and Components.
The choice of the Abrams underlines the strong ties existing between Warsaw and Washington in the defence field, the US Army having recently established the V Corps forward HQ in the city of Poznan (Man HQ is based in Fort Knox, while during the Cold War the V Corp was headquartered in Frankfurt, Germany). Not only, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement signed in November 2020, two weeks prior the activation of the Poznan HQ, increases the US rotational presence in Poland from 4,500 to 5,500 military.
Photo courtesy US Army/DVIDS