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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Not Enough M1 Abrams? Poland Is Buying K2 Black Panther Tanks

M1 Abrams Tank
Battle Group Poland Fires an M1 Abrams Remotely

Poland has become the linchpin of NATO’s eastern defense. Recognizing its important geostrategic position, the U.S. has deployed significant forces to that country, including a rotationally deployed Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) and the prepositioned equipment for a second ABCT. 

Simultaneously, Warsaw is rapidly modernizing its military, primarily by acquiring Western military hardware, thereby enhancing interoperability with its NATO allies. Included in its recent purchases are more than 360 M1 Abrams tanks, the same type used by U.S. ABCTs. But after taking this significant step, Warsaw turned to South Korea to provide it with 1,000 additional main battle tanks. This will complicate interoperability and access to spare parts. 

Why is the U.S., which has additional M1s that it could provide to this important ally, letting Poland buy tanks from South Korea?

A Modernizing Military With Abrams Tanks

Poland is turning into a military powerhouse, spending well above the 2% of GDP that NATO member-states pledged to allocate to defense. With this money, it is rapidly modernizing a military hampered for decades by a continuing reliance on Soviet-era equipment. Poland has focused mostly on acquiring crucial U.S. equipment. It joined Europe’s F-35 club, signing a contract to acquire 32 Joint Strike Fighters. Poland also has purchased dozens of U.S.-built F-16 fighters, a number of Patriot air and missile defense batteries, and a substantial number of HIMARS, the rocket artillery system that the Ukrainian Army is employing to great effect.

Poland has played a central role in NATO’s efforts to support Ukraine in its defense against Russian aggression. The country has received millions of Ukrainian refugees. It is serving as the critical transshipment point for Western humanitarian aid and military assistance. At one time, Poland offered to send Ukraine its surplus MiG-29 fighters. Since February, Warsaw has provided Ukraine with domestically produced self-propelled howitzers, multiple rocket launchers, and some 200 T-72 tanks.

Even before the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, one of Poland’s most important modernization programs was its effort to replace Soviet-era main battle tanks with modern platforms. To that end, Warsaw signed an agreement with Washington in April to acquire 250 M1A2 SEPV3 main battle tanks, the same version of the Abrams that is entering service with the U.S. Army. This contract also included acquisition of 26 M88A2 HERCULES armored recovery vehicles and 17 M1074 Joint Assault Bridges.

As Poland began shipping its old T-72 tanks to Poland, it went back to the U.S. for an additional 116 used M1s in order to prevent a capability gap in this critical area. These were older variants of the Abrams that had once equipped U.S. Marine Corps heavy armor units. 

With its acquisition of some 360 M1s, Poland will operate the world’s best main battle tank. Since it was introduced in 1980, the Abrams has undergone a series of improvements designated as System Enhancement Packages Versions 1-3 (SEPV1-3). The M1 SEPV3 is the latest version of the Abrams and a significant improvement over earlier variants. It is intended to respond to advances in foreign armor developments.

The SEPV3 will be more lethal and survivable than its predecessors, but at the same time easier to maintain. The new variant will be equipped with upgraded computers, sensors, radios, and power management systems. It will have an Auxiliary Power Unit that allows the Abrams to keep its sophisticated sensor systems running while the engine is off. Survivability measures include an improved Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station, a Counter Remote Controlled Improvised Explosive Device Electronic Warfare package, and reinforced armor. The SEPV3 will also be the most lethal version of the Abrams. It adds an improved Ammunition Data Link for the fire control system, and new rounds for the 120mm main gun. 

An even better variant of the Abrams, the SEPV4, is in development. The SEPV4 would include advanced sensors that would improve target engagement in all weather conditions, as well as a new communications system, and new munitions to defeat advanced enemy armor at a longer range.

It’s Not Just About Poland

The acquisition of hundreds of Abrams tanks is about more than modernizing the Polish Army. It is about enhancing the interoperability and sustainment of NATO forces. Polish armored forces and the U.S. ABCTs deployed to that country will now be able to cooperate more closely. They will have pools of spare parts and munitions common to both countries’ M1s. As Poland develops the skills and local industrial base to support maintenance and repair of the M1, these assets will be able to support U.S. ABCTs.

Operating the same equipment delivers great advantages to both countries, and to the alliance as a whole. As such, it is extremely surprising that last month, Poland signed an agreement with South Korea for a massive arms acquisition deal that includes a reported 1,000 K2 main battle tanks, as well as self-propelled howitzers and light attack aircraft. 

Having agreed to provide Poland with hundreds of advanced Abrams, it makes no sense that the United States would fail to meet Warsaw’s need for additional main battle tanks. This allows the advantages of operating a common platform to dissipate. Now the Polish military will have to add another supply chain to its sustainment capability and figure out how to make the K2 interoperable with its other armor systems.

K2 Black Panther

K2 Black Panther. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

The Polish government claimed that the contact with South Korea helps close a capability gap created by the transfer of large amounts of equipment to Ukraine. But the U.S. Army has enough older versions of the Abrams in storage that could be upgraded to the SEPV3 standard and provided to Poland. The U.S. military has the industrial capacity to provide these upgraded Abrams to Poland on an accelerated basis while continuing to meet the U.S. Army’s demand for the SEPV3.

It will take years for Poland to bring in the K2 tanks. That gives Washington time to weigh in and get Warsaw to reconsider its decision. But the U.S. must, at a minimum, be willing to offer Poland additional Abrams SEPV3 tanks. Offering further upgrades to the SEPV4 would make even more sense.

Written By

Dr. Goure is Senior Vice President with the Lexington Institute, a nonprofit public-policy research organization headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. He is involved in a wide range of issues as part of the institute’s national security program.

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Rob Young

    August 12, 2022 at 6:13 am

    There is the fact that the US wants Europe to be more responsible for it’s own defence, yet in many cases this really means ‘buy more American kit’. However, Europe has it’s own priorities. Equipment that is good for America may not be as good for a European state. Perhaps Poland simply feels that Abrams is not the optimum?

    Having said that – South Korea is itself very westernised regarding equipment. It also produces a lot of (for example) IT, software and electrical components. Their equipment is very much compatible with the US and other western nations already. So will the supply issue really be a as big a thing?

  2. pagar

    August 12, 2022 at 6:36 am

    Hmm, poland buying korean armor, eh. A country that once exported pt-91 MBTs. Now reduced to buying kimchi armor. Korean tank that good, eh.

    Today, anti-tank munitions strike at the thinner layer found on the turret top, specifically the hatches and cupola covers. Or the top of engine blocks (engine covers).

    It’s time to develop squarish-shaped tanks where crew exits via the rear compartment while an oversized turret blocks heat from engine bay.

    Turret should be unmanned and shielded completely with ceramic tiles capable of withstanding hot streams of ‘molten lead’.

    No kimchi tank or abrams vehicle has such credentials, the only one coming closest is the merkava.

  3. Yrral

    August 12, 2022 at 6:57 am

    This story is false the US has 6000 tank in Germany Google US Germany Tank Inventory

  4. Tomb

    August 12, 2022 at 7:36 am

    US does not let Poland do anything.
    Poland is not 51st state of USA.

  5. Jack

    August 12, 2022 at 9:21 am

    This could be just as simple as Poland not wanting to put all of their eggs in one basket… Can’t really blame them for that…. Assuming the South Korean tank is a good tank which I guess it is. Don’t think the Poles would buy the South Korean tank if they didn’t think it would be effective in battle

  6. Klaus von Schnitzenpecker

    August 12, 2022 at 11:45 am

    Unfortunately, America has become a somewhat unreliable source for obtaining weapons. Outsourcing provides a hedge against a unpredictable US congress.

  7. 403Forbidden

    August 12, 2022 at 2:33 pm

    Poland buying K2s from south Korea could be caused by the k2 lesser price tag but the clincher could well be the k2’s ability to ford shallow rivers like the ones found in Donbass region and western Russia.

    With high temperatures and droughts in Europe, k2 tanks are right at home for the coming battlefields of the eastern front.

    Soon it will be June 22 1941 once more. Operation Barbarossa II. Ghosts of perpetual wars / armor clashes walk our earth !

  8. HAT451

    August 12, 2022 at 3:09 pm

    I believe the author is 100% correct where near the end of the article he writes, “The U.S. military has the industrial capacity to provide these upgraded Abrams to Poland on an accelerated …” The real question is does the US have the political will ramp up the defense related industrial base to produce the tanks for Poland or replace the tanks which are given to Poland?

  9. Fluffy Dog

    August 12, 2022 at 6:21 pm

    Looked at the latest specs for the K2. It looks like a next gen tank compared to the M1 even with SEP4 package. Controlled suspension like Leclerc’s, optional autoloader (similar to Leclerc), ability to fire loitering munitions to 8 km, snorkel installed in 30 min, capable of using Israeli Trophy active protection system… All at the same price as M1 and lighter.

  10. Jacksonian Libertarian

    August 12, 2022 at 6:49 pm

    I think South Korea makes quality weapons. That said, I don’t think Poland should be buying Armored vehicles.

    The US Marines no longer use tanks. The US forces are moving to faster, less expensive, mine protected, lightly armored, wheeled vehicles, and even those are smart missile magnets. Tanks and armored vehicles are obsolete in the “mature precision strike regime”. They are steel coffins to any modern military armed with smart weapons.

    They are logistical nightmares to field. All tracked vehicles must be first shipped to the battlefield by ship, train, and tractor trailer. They are maintenance hogs, that get 1/2 a mile per gallon when they are working. They are armed with Dumb weapons, the tank guns are only good out to 2km where they are lucky to hit a tank sized target.

    Tanks and armored vehicles are the natural prey of each other, and all of the following smart weapons. Javelins have a 4km range and are 93%+ reliable at destroying any armored vehicle across that entire range. Drones carry Hellfires, Griffins, SBD’s, etc. 155mm Excalibur Artillery rounds have GPS/INT and Laser guidance and 25km range, HIMARS have the same guidance and multiple warheads as well as a 70km or 300km range. Manned fighter bombers have everything the Drones can carry plus really heavy stuff that can take out the bridge the tank is crossing when hit.

    So, Poland should buy smart weapons.

  11. Thomas

    August 12, 2022 at 8:41 pm

    K2 is a good purchase for the Poles. They are already buying components of the ROK K9 Thunder for their AHS Krab SPH. Its a solid decision for them.

  12. Your Momma

    August 12, 2022 at 11:47 pm

    Who paid to have this article written?

  13. yellow_tiger

    August 13, 2022 at 12:51 pm

    Well, the reason is very simple – Poland does not buy 1000 K2 tanks but Poland is to produce 1000 K2PL tanks localy using K2 as a base. First batch of 180 K2 will be delivered from Korea till the end of this year to replace PT-91 donated to Ukraine.

    More or less simultaneously technology transfer of K2 will take place together with improving K2 to K2PL so by 2026 K2PL enters full scale production production.

    The same kind of deal is made re. SPGs – till end of this year 48 K9A1 from Korea to replace AHS Krabs that were donated to Ukraine (at least 36) and later (starting from 2026) local production of massivly improved K9PL version (full autoloader etc) with the final goal of over 600 SPS. Simultaneously full scale production of AHS Krab will continue to fulfill both Polish and Ukrainian demand, which is HUGE.

    SO, why not simply buy more M1s?
    First, because Poland would need to crazy to transfer something like 20bln$ abroad without actually producing those tanks localy (which she is absolutely capable of doing), and, well, US isn’t exactly very well known as a eager technology sharing partner, to put it mildly.
    Second, Poland needs a lighter tank than M1 – due to many reasons but one of then is quite simple – rivers. And because of that tanks need to be able to cross rivers on their own, which currently M1 is not capable of doing. Leopards2 are but this chapter is closed for good.
    Third, there is a very substantial probability that with this deal Poland would become something like European K2/K9 production/modernization/repair hub, afterall where else should it be located if not in the country that alone has more tanks than Germany, France, Italy, UK and Spain together?
    Forth, it is also very likely that simply due to current Polish stance towards Ukraine and the way Poland handles NATO commitments other countries would opt for the same tank/SPG that is being used by Poliash Armed Forces – obvious candidates are: Czechs, Slovaks, Romanians, Bulgarians, jointly Baltic states and of course Ukraine.

  14. Zradogon

    August 14, 2022 at 5:57 pm

    Poland hopes to capture Western Ukraine on the sly and thinks that a few hundred American tanks will help it in this. Fools.

  15. bravo

    August 16, 2022 at 7:08 am

    Yes, what @yellow_tiger said.

  16. Mariusz

    August 16, 2022 at 7:54 am

    @Zradogon Poland hopes to capture West Siberia for all you know….. Maybe we are fools, but…. we will relatively soon be the fools with 1300 modern MTBs so I’d suggest watch who you call a fool comrade! And add to it 800 or so SPG’s. Patriot & CAMM’s. F-35’s & F-16’s. Drones. Just wonder if we will get 5-6 years to get the gear but if we do…. well, comrade, try anything and you will get so much ordnance rammed up your thing that you will be using sponge to clean up your gums with no obstacle whatsoever!!

  17. Your Momma

    August 16, 2022 at 6:28 pm

    How can you employ this guy? He throws out “interoperability” and supply chain out there as proof of something. Did he write this on the toilet? Having the best tanks in the world. What a good problem to have. It is obvious that the comments (not mine) is better then what the author spit out. Better info in the comments, hire some of these people.

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