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Poland - Military Transition from Communism

The Polish military budget had begun to shrink somewhat by 1988, but major cuts occurred between 1989 and 1991. In 1991, for example, the Ministry of National Defense proposed to the Sejm a defense budget of 29 trillion zloty; the Sejm approved a budget of 23 trillion zloty, but subsequent cuts lowered the total to 16 trillion zloty. Some 22.5 percent of the 1990 defense budget was allotted to purchase of arms and equipment, and 61.5 percent went to maintaining manpower levels. Military experts considered the former figure too low to even maintain Polish equipment in status quo condition, leaving no funds for modernization. At the same time, the manpower figure was inflated by the communist legacy of redundant bureaucracy filled with senior officers. The 1991 budget made a nominal allotment of 10 percent for procurement of new equipment. Although cuts in senior military staff were expected to remedy the chronic imbalance between personnel and equipment allocations, in the first part of 1992 some 80 percent of the military budget went to maintaining personnel. The Sejm cut another 11 percent from the budget for 1992, causing planners again to reassess the structure and equipment of the armed forces. At that point, the Ministry of National Defense owed a debt of about US$70 million to Polish defense industries.

When communism fell, Poland's military equipment and arms supply changed as dramatically as its strategic position. In the Warsaw Pact era, the Soviet Union had been Poland's main supplier at prices far below world standards. Once the political advantage of offering such bargains disappeared, however, the Soviet/Russian arms industry ended preferential treatment. In the late 1980s, for example, the top-of-the-line MiG-29 fighter was offered to Soviet allies for US$2 million each; in 1991 the same aircraft was offered to the same customers at the approximate world market value of US$18 million. Given severe cuts in its military budget and the impending obsolescence of many of its existing armaments, Poland faces critical procurement choices that generated heated debate in the military establishment in the early 1990s. Those choices were also conditioned by the technical requirements of Poland's new strategic defense doctrine of high mobility and flexibility--qualities lacking in many critical systems remaining from the Soviet supply line.

The debate centered on how much Poland should rely on supplies from its own arms industry (thrown into crisis by the cutbacks that began in the late 1980s), how much on purchases from Western suppliers, and how much on previous connections with Soviet/Russian suppliers. Production at home offered two significant advantages: technological continuity and lower cost. In 1990 some 64 percent of the equipment used by the Polish armed forces was domestically produced, and most Polish-produced armaments were compatible with existing Soviet-supplied products. (In 1991 the cost of an M-1-A1 Abrams tank from the United States was nearly ten times that of a Polish-made tank in the T-72 line.) Also a major planning factor were the arms reductions that would be required of former Warsaw Pact nations in nearly every category by the terms of the CFE Treaty.

According to statistics often cited in the arms-policy debates of the early 1990s, the ratio of equipment to personnel in the Polish Army was significantly smaller than comparable ratios in former Warsaw Pact allies Bulgaria, the CSFR, East Germany, and Romania and much smaller than those of NATO countries. Planned personnel cuts in the Polish Army would improve the overall ratio, but significant technical modernization was needed to bring the percentage of state-of-the- art equipment to the desired 35 to 40 percent. In 1991 Chief of Staff General Zdzislaw Stelmaszuk rated less than 25 percent of the Polish Army's equipment in this category, and over 40 percent of towed artillery and naval vessels were classified as obsolete. According to a General Staff analysis in 1991, about 500 trillion zloty of armaments purchases would be needed by the year 2000 to reach the desired level of modernity. This figure dwarfed the 1991 Ministry of National Defense budget allotment of 16 trillion zloty passed by Parliament.

In 1991 Stelmaszuk, who was also chairman of the Group for Restructuring the Polish Armed Forces, projected the following armament goals for the mid-1990s after restructuring and reductions to meet CFE requirements: 1,730 tanks; 2,150 armored vehicles, of which 1,700 would be infantry combat vehicles; 1,610 artillery systems over 100mm; 1,430 antitank systems; 3,175 antiaircraft systems (including 1,455 missile systems); 130 combat assault helicopters; and eighty naval vessels (including forty combat vessels).

In the early 1990s, the uncertainty of available annual funding complicated procurement. Although some specific longrange procurement goals had been determined by 1991, in 1992 civilian and military leaders had not yet reached a consensus about the best way to achieve those goals.

Beginning in 1989, long-term defense contracts with the Soviet Union and East Germany were broken unexpectedly, resulting in shortages of crucial components and materials. From 1990 onwards, the Soviet Union simply refused to supply some spare parts and lubricants not available in Poland, while raising the price of others to world market levels. The withdrawal of Soviet forces removed nuclear warheads from Scud and other Warsaw Pact missile batteries, leaving the Poles to locate conventional warheads elsewhere to fit their disarmed missiles and launchers. Naval coproduction contracts with East Germany ended with German reunification in 1990, leaving Poland with empty hulls and ships lacking armaments.

Such situations caused planners to consider importing Western military equipment. This solution would move the Polish Army toward its long-range goal of compatibility with NATO doctrine and armaments. Three major obstacles confronted such a policy, however. The introduction of Western technology would create a confused, hybrid system; sale of advanced technology by Western nations to a former Warsaw Pact member often was blocked by export restrictions of the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (CoCom); and the Polish defense budget simply lacked sufficient funds to buy advanced Western hardware.

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