Poland, Article III and Missile Defense: Shaping a Way Ahead in Alliance Capabilities


2017-12-18 By Robbin Laird and Ed Timperlake

We have a fundamental respect for the Poles and their history.

No people have learned more about the threats to national survival generated by European insecurities and the Russians than the Poles.

We each have a reach into Poland and its heritage but by different paths.

For Laird, it was the opportunity to work for Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski.

For Ed Timperlake, it was the opportunity to support Secretary Ed Derwinski, as his Presidential Appointee in arranging for the State Funeral and return to Poland of the great Musician and Primer of Poland Ignacy Jan Paderewski. Paderewski’s remains were returned to Warsaw and placed in St. John’s Archcathedral. Paderewski’s dying wish, while in America during World War II, was to be returned to a free Poland and that wish was granted by President Bush in 1992.

Article III of the NATO Treaty focuses on the need for a country to take its self-defense seriously in order for the rest of the treaty to have real effect, including the Article V clause with regard to an attack on one is an attack on all.

If a country has not prepared to defend itself, it is difficult to see how allies can do that for the given country.

Or put bluntly, if a country cares so little for its own defense that it spends its money and efforts and everything but, why should other allies take up the slack?

Or put even more bluntly, if a country is not working to defend itself, it has put itself into the military world of becoming an area upon which both allies and adversaries will operate to protect their own interests.

With Poland’s history and knowledge of the Russians, there is a clear understanding that they have little interest in being the forward edge of a battle.

But the challenge facing Poland and NATO has changed as the Russians have crafted a version of 21st century conflict, which is built around a significant missile strike force with adjacent combat capabilities.

The threat has been put well by Rear Adm. Nils Wang, former head of the Danish Navy and now head of the Danish Royal Military Academy recently introduced the reverse engineering approach to deal with anti-access and area denial.

Wang clearly argued that the Russian challenge has little to do with the Cold War Soviet-Warsaw Pact threat to the Nordics. The Soviet-Warsaw threat was one of invasion and occupation, and then using Nordic territory to fight U.S. and allied forces in the North Atlantic. In many ways, this would have been a repeat of how the Nazis seized Norway during a combined arms amphibious operation combined with a land force walk into Denmark.

In that scenario, the Danes and their allies were focused on sea denial through use of mines, with fast patrol boats providing protection for the minelayers. Aircraft and submarines were part of a defense in depth strategy to deny the ability of the Soviets to occupy the region in time of a general war.

He contrasted this with the current situation in which the Russians are less focused on a general war, and more on building capabilities for a more limited objective, controlling the Baltic States. He highlighted the arms modernization of the Russian military focused on ground-based missile defense and land- and sea-based attack missiles, along with airpower, as the main means to shape a denial-in-depth strategy which would allow the Russians significant freedom of maneuver to achieve their objectives within their zone of strategic maneuver.

A core Russian asset is the Kalibr cruise missile, which can operate off of a variety of platforms. With a dense missile wolf pack, so to speak, the Russians provide a cover for their maneuver forces. They are focused on using land-based mobile missiles in the region as their key strike and defense asset.

“The Russian defense plan in the Baltic is all about telling NATO, we can go into the Baltic countries if we decided to do so. And you will not be able to get in and get us out. That is basically the whole idea,” the admiral said.

Wang argued for a reverse engineering approach to the Russian threat. He saw this as combining several key elements: a combined anti-submarine (ASW), F-35 fleet, frigate- and land-based strike capabilities, including from Poland.

Another player in the region, Finland, looking out at the Russian threat is in the process of reworking their strategy to encompass allies in the region for self defense. And one Finnish defense official put the challenge very clearly:

“The timeline for early warning is shorter; and the threshold for the use of force is lower.”

Poland is approaching its Article III efforts by shaping a core missile defense capability, both medium and short range which allows it to deal with the threat as identified by the Finns and to contribute to broader regional defense in the way suggested by Rear Admiral Wang.

It is about building a capability which can defend Poland but link into the defense in depth which is necessary in the region.

The Poles are focusing on both building mid-range and short-range missile defense.

With regard to building out their mid-range missile defense, they are doing so with regard to ongoing modernization and building in capabilities for networking back to their own forces and to those of their neighbors and allies.

The system selected by the Poles to fill the mid-range missile defense system is a variant of the Patriot system.

But very noteworthy is the command and control aspect of the approach they are taking.

They are not pursuing a classic prime contractor provides all approach to a system but are opting for an open architecture system which will allow them to both have open ended modernization but also work the linkages to NATO neighbors and allies.

The Poles are acquiring the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System or IBCS.

Rather than buying a legacy proprietary C2 system, the Poles are leaning forward to procure an open architecture C2 system.

They won’t have siloed systems that require new or upgraded C2 with each new radar or interceptor.

This is important as other allies acquire missile defense systems going forward, and new air systems like F-35 become part of the extended defense equation, as Rear Admiral Wang suggests.

It is about shaping a defense in depth capability across Poland, German, the Baltics, Finland and the Nordics. Without shaping common C2 capabilities, defense in depth will be more limited than the defense capabilities could allow for.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis hosts a bilateral meeting for Poland’s Minister of Defense Antoni Macierewicz Sept. 21, 2017, at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. (DOD photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)

Siloed systems do their tasks but do less than they could to provide full up capabilities to the integrated battlespace.

The Poles are also moving in the direction the US Army is looking to transition as well.  

Rather than buying whole systems, and being dependent on prime contractors for the complete integration of those systems, the US Army is looking towards a commodity approach.

What the U.S. Army is looking to do is be able to manage interactions among C2, sensors, and missiles and to plus whichever of these “commodities” needs to be plused up.

It is also crucial for the US Army to be able to integrate the defense systems in the maneuver force as well as to focus on what is necessary for the evolving integrated battle space.

It is not simply about after market integration; it is about building in integration from the ground up as new systems are added as well.

This means that the Polish approach is symmetrical with the strategic direction of the US Army itself.

Poland is working through the challenge of affordability with regard to missile defense, but senior Polish officials understand that the open architecture C2 system is not an add on but a core capability to the evolution of core Polish defense capabilities.

Asked about speculation that Poland could resign from the IBCS to lower the price of the Patriots, (Deputy Defense Minister) Kownacki stressed that the air defense management system obviously may be the subject of discussion, but “it’s not that it (IBCS) fundamentally changes the price proportions in the middle-range air defense system”.

 “We are analyzing the document and we will be negotiating, but you must know that IBCS is what everyone will buy. This is the future that awaits all of us, and sooner or later we will bear this cost.”


In short, Poland has demonstrated NATO leadership in pursing the most modern air and missile defense system available.

They are acquiring a system built not just for today, but to anticipate and counter future threats.

It is clearly in the US and NATO interests that the US and Poland work together to get to a price that satisfies both sides, while still preserving the investment in the future which IBCS represents.