Poland’s outgoing right-leaning Law & Justice (PiS) government placed what will likely be its last major defense order on December 1, when departing Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak inked a $2.6 billion agreement with South Korea’s Hanwha Aerospace for 152 K9 “Thunder” self-propelled howitzers (SPHs).
The deal involves six K9A1 variants, as well as 146 K9PL (modified for Polish requirements) versions. The first batch of six K9A1s are expected to be delivered in 2025, with the Polish variants arriving from 2026 to 2027.
Hanwha has already signed an agreement with Poland’s state-run defense holding company, PGZ (Polish Armaments Group) for future in-country production of the K9PL variant. That arrangement may mitigate some of the political pushback created by the recent announcement, which parties opposing the Law & Justice party view as beyond the remit of an outgoing government.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine prompted the PiS government to accelerate defense modernization efforts outlined under the country’s Technical Modernization Plan (2021-2035).
During 2022 alone over PLN30 billion ($6.2 billion) worth of orders were placed. These covered a range of capabilities, including the Narew short-range air-defense system procurement, a 300-unit purchase of South Korean K239 Chunmoo multiple rocket launchers (MRLs), and an estimated $14.5 billion arms agreement package with South Korea involving 180 K2 Black Panther main battle tanks (MBTs), 672 K9 SPHs, and 48 FA-50 Golden Eagle light fighters.
Meanwhile, Poland cleared the way for acquisitions of 250 M1A2 Abrams SEPv3 MBTs, 96 AH-64E Apache helicopters from Boeing in the latest Guardian variant, a pair of military observation satellites from France’s Airbus Defense & Space, two signals intelligence-gathering “spy ships” from Sweden’s Saab, and a potential $10 billion procurement of M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS).
The defense acquisition splurge has placed a strain on future Polish finances before the new government – likely a coalition of political alliances involving the center-right, center and left and headed by former Prime Minister Donald Tusk – enters office at the end of the year.
The massive expansion of military hardware and the financial weight of multiple large-volume, high-capital orders will mean that the new government will need to review acquisition plans with an eye on affordability and what additional room the Polish Armed Forces have for absorbing any new equipment.
At the same time the outgoing government has overseen a sharp rise in defense spending that has brought the topline military budget up to around 3 percent of GDP, with further growth to 4 percent of GDP advocated by the PiS.
Where both political sides likely see eye to eye is in ensuring Polish industry is the beneficiary of as much workshare and technology transfer from the current orders as possible.
This is where the latest contract – despite the political criticism of the current government for placing the order – lands on firmer ground.
The PiS reached out to South Korea regarding a procurement of its K9 Thunder and clinched a framework agreement in July 2022. A contract for roughly 200 K9 Thunders in two production tranches then followed a month later in August 2022.
The K9 order will supplement Poland’s ongoing acquisition of Krab 155mm SPHs from local manufacturer Huta Stalowa Wola. The Krab SPH is built on a K9 chassis designed by South Korea’s Hanwa Techwin under license, hence the symmetry of the K9 acquisition.
The first tranche of K9 SPHs involved 48 K9A1 units, which were built in South Korea and delivered from 2022 through 2023. The first 24 K9A1s arrived in Poland in December 2022 and were handed over to the 11 Mazovian Artillery Regiment.
This latest tranche will be initially produced in South Korea before a new factory in Poland begins assuming the bulk of the order.