Alarmed by Events in Ukraine, Poland Opts for Accelerated MQ-9 Reaper Purchase

With war raging in Ukraine, the Polish government is readying a procurement of an undisclosed number of MQ-9 Reaper medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) drones. The MQ-9 Reaper is capable of conducting both reconnaissance and combat missions and is generally armed with HELLFIRE missiles or GBU-12 Paveway bombs.

The Reaper purchase is reportedly an urgent operational requirement (UOR) and therefore may possibly be outside of the Polish Air Force’s Zefir MALE UAV procurement project.

Under the original parameters of the Zefir program, the intention is to procure four sets of  three UAVs apiece. The plan is for the first two systems to be purchased by 2022 and an option for two more to be exercised at a later date. The competing bidders for the Zefir acquisition are General Atomics with its MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-1C Gray Eagle and Israel’s Elbit Systems with the Hermes 900.

The conflict in Ukraine has spurred Poland, as well as many other European nations, to accelerate its military modernization plans. With long memories of Soviet invasion and the control over the country exerted from Moscow during the Cold War, Poland’s principal strategic focus since independence has been on territorial defense and deterring Russian aggression. Polish leaders are well aware that right on the country’s northeast border lay the heavily militarized Russian exclave oblast of Kaliningrad.

The Polish government recently adopted the Act on Homeland Defense, which clears the way for expanding the Polish armed forces in terms of both personnel and equipment capabilities. The armed forces will grow to 250,000 regulars under the plan, which will be supported by a 50,000-strong Territorial Defense Force (Wojska Obrona Terytorialnej, WOT). Military reservists will be required to serve at least three months per year and will be brought up to a greater standard of combat readiness.

Furthermore, the previous target of reaching and sustaining a benchmark annual defense spending level equal to 2.5 percent of GDP by 2030 will be sharply accelerated in order to hit that target by 2024. This means a likely increase of the defense budget up to a level of around $18-$20 billion per annum within the next two years, marking a minimal rise of around 30 percent nominally from the 2021 defense earmark.

In regard to its UAV acquisition efforts, Poland already procured 24 Bayraktar TB2 drones from Turkey back in May 2021, with deliveries to start this year and through 2024. These drones – which proved extremely effective in the Azerbaijani offensive against Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020 and are currently being supplied to Ukraine by Turkey – will be equipped with anti-tank missiles.

In addition to Zefir, Poland’s Defense Ministry also seeks the procurement of 12 medium-range combat-enabled drones under the Gryf project.

As for the Reapers, Poland hopes to secure this acquisition from the United States at the earliest possible date.

 

About Daniel Darling

Dan Darling is a senior analyst covering both the Europe and Asia-Pacific regions for Forecast International's International Military Markets group.

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