NATO member Poland is set to deliver the biggest-ever win for South Korea’s rapidly growing defence industry, signing a massive deal involving tanks, self-propelled artillery and lightweight fighter jets.
A contract signing ceremony involving Poland Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Mariusz Błaszczak took place as the Eastern European country accelerates its military modernisation in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
According to the Colonel Krzysztof Płatek, the spokesperson for the Polish defence acquisitions agency, the deal will see 180 Hyundai-Rotem K2 Black Panther main battle tanks Poland signed a contract for in June to be upgraded to K2PL standard, with an additional 820 more tanks to be built in Poland.
Poland will also acquire 48 K9A1 Thunder self-propelled 155mm howitzers from Hanwha, which will eventually be upgraded to K9PL standard with an intention to acquire 642 more units.
Deliveries of the K2s will take place between 2022 and 2025, with upgrades to K2PL standard beginning in 2026. K9A1 deliveries will take place in 2022 and 2023, with deliveries of the K9PL with autoloader and other improvements to start in 2024 and local production to start in 2026.
The two countries will also jointly develop the K3PL main battle tank, a new 155mm self-propelled howitzer and a heavy Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) based on the AS21 Redback.
South Korea will also supply the Korean Aerospace Industries FA-50 Golden Eagle light combat aircraft to Poland. Poland plans to acquire 48 aircraft, with 12 to be delivered from 2023 while the remaining aircraft will be delivered in 2025.
Platek also said Poland would be looking at the South Korean KF-21 Boramae Gen 4.5 fighter which made its first flight in mid-July as a future platform, despite Poland already ordering 32 Lockheed-Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters and having 48 Block 52+ F-16C/D Fighting Falcon fighters in its inventory.
The new equipment will enable Poland to replace its stocks of obsolete Soviet-built equipment, including T-72 and PT-91 tanks, BMP-1 IFVs, 2S1 self-propelled howitzers as well as MiG-29 and Su-22 jets.
It also plans to retire its Leopard 2 tanks, with reports that it was unhappy with the tanks and with attempts at upgrading them.
Poland has transferred a lot of its Soviet-bloc tanks, IFVs and howitzers to Ukraine to support its fight against the Russian invasion and will need to backfill these urgently, while its 47 MiG-29s and Su-22s are ageing and already obsolete.
As a state that has suffered from Russian and Soviet invasions throughout history and currently shares borders with Ukraine, the Baltic republics and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, Poland has been one of the most vociferous in supporting Ukraine’s fight.
The large number of platforms in its arms purchase plans also shows that it has appreciated a key lesson from the ongoing Russian invasion: a high-intensity conflict between advanced militaries will see high rates of attrition and a small, boutique military force will rapidly be ground down in such a conflict.
It is a lesson many Western militaries, including Australia’s, will perhaps do well to heed.