The U.S. and Poland are forging an increasingly close national security and military relationship. Poland is the keystone of NATO’s eastern flank defense. This is why the Pentagon has deployed forces and supplies there. It is also why Washington has been willing to sell Poland top-of-the-line equipment such as the Abrams M1 main battle tank (MBT). Interoperability between the U.S. and Polish Armed Forces as U.S. equipment is adopted by the Polish military. In the interest of furthering that interoperability, improving the strategic readiness of NATO forces, and enhancing the West’s defense industrial capacity, the two countries should take the next step of setting up an industrial facility in Poland to enable the assembly of the Abrams tanks purchased by Warsaw.
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Poland’s geographic position at the center of NATO’s eastern flank, its willingness to host U.S. forces, and its commitment to building a large and modern military make it a particularly valuable ally. The United States’ commitment to the security of Poland and the rest of the Alliance is reflected in the decision made several years ago to deploy significant forces and capabilities there. U.S. forces in Poland include the forward-deployed elements of an Army division headquarters, the rotational deployment of an armored brigade combat team (ABCT), pre-positioned equipment for a second ABCT, logistics units, and an MQ-9 Reaper drone squadron. The Biden administration recently took the additional step of establishing the first permanent U.S. military facility in Poland, the headquarters for the newly reconstituted U.S. Army’s V Corps.
Poland is not just a passive recipient of U.S. forces. Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it was one of only a handful of NATO countries to not only meets but exceed the Alliance’s goal of spending two percent of GDP on defense. It is spending much of its available defense investment dollars on Western, particularly U.S., equipment. Poland has also signed contracts to acquire some of the U.S.’s top-of-the-line capabilities, including F-35 stealth fighters, Patriot air defense systems, HIMARS rocket launchers, and attack helicopters.
One key system Poland is acquiring is the M1 Abrams MBT. The war in Ukraine has underscored the Polish Army’s urgent need to replace its Soviet-era military hardware with advanced Western systems. Poland initially signed a contract to acquire 250 of the advanced M1A2 variant but recently signed a supplemental agreement to buy 116 M1A1s, which are an earlier variant.
Poland Looking Elsewhere for Hardware
The Polish Army, however, believes it needs additional platforms, including more MBTs, additional multiple rocket launchers, and long-range artillery. That is why Warsaw turned to South Korea. Earlier this year, Warsaw signed an agreement with Seoul for nearly 1,000 K2 MBTs along with hundreds of multiple rocket launchers and mobile artillery pieces, plus 50 light attack aircraft. South Korea has also promised to set up a tank assembly facility in Poland. While Polish sources have indicated that they would prefer to acquire additional U.S. equipment, the U.S. defense industrial base is simply not prepared in many cases to rapidly produce the desired equipment in the numbers requested. The demand for HIMARS has exploded. The system’s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, is making a herculean effort to rapidly increase production from 60 to 96 units a year.
While Warsaw has a pressing need for more military hardware, acquiring systems from South Korea may not be the best solution. Regarding the K2 tanks, while the first ten are being delivered right away, delivery on the rest of the order will be spread out over the next four years. Moreover, since this is the first foreign sale of the K2, the South Korean firm, Hyundai Rotem, has no experience with supporting a foreign buyer or setting up an MBT co-production facility in a foreign country.
There are other reasons to be concerned regarding the Poland-South Korea agreement. It will reduce interoperability with U.S. forces and the advantages, both operational and industrial, of the presence of U.S. armor in Poland and possible sales of Abrams tanks to other Eastern European countries. In addition, the Polish military will now have to operate and sustain multiple MBTs.
The U.S. could provide Poland with additional Abrams MBTs. The Polish government should consider options for acquiring more of the world’s best MBT. It makes more sense for Warsaw to acquire as many M1s as possible rather than splitting its procurement.
Produce in Poland
Another important step that could be taken to improve interoperability and enhance NATO defense collaboration is to open a facility in Poland to assemble M1 tanks from kits provided by the United States. By assembling M1s, the proposed facility would be able to support additional sales of Abrams tanks, not only to Poland but to other countries in Eastern Europe. This same facility could evolve over time into a maintenance and support center for all M1-equipped forces in the region.
In addition to enhancing interoperability, a facility in Poland would provide economic benefits for both countries. In the U.S., the prime contractor is General Dynamics, whose tank production and maintenance facilities at Lima, Ohio and Anniston, Alabama would create the kits and provide a range of parts and support services. In Poland, an assembly facility would provide high-skilled jobs and create a workforce and supplier base.
Unlike Hyundai Rotem, General Dynamics has extensive experience in setting up and operating co-production facilities overseas. The proposed facility in Poland would be similar to the one that has been operating in Egypt for some thirty years and has produced hundreds of M1s based on kits provided by General Dynamics.
Standing up an Abrams assembly facility in Poland would also put Poland in an excellent position to take advantage of future modifications and upgrades to the Abrams. General Dynamics has proposed an advanced variant, called the AbramsX. This would be a revolutionary new platform with a hybrid diesel-electric power pack, an unmanned turret, advanced sensors, and the ability to operate drones and robotic ground vehicles. By becoming an assembly center for Abrams tanks, Poland would be in a leading position to support the next generation of MBTs.
Author Expertise and Experience: Dr. Daniel Goure, a 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, 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. Dr. Goure has held senior positions in both the private sector and the U.S. Government. Most recently, he was a member of the 2001 Department of Defense Transition Team. Dr. Goure spent two years in the U.S. Government as the director of the Office of Strategic Competitiveness in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He also served as a senior analyst on national security and defense issues with the Center for Naval Analyses, Science Applications International Corporation, SRS Technologies, R&D Associates, and System Planning Corporation.