Poland Loves Howitzers
Warsaw boosts its ground power with 120 self-propelled guns
On Dec. 17, Poland inked a deal with South Korea to buy 120 self-propelled howitzers for $320 million.
The deal is mostly for the technology and 36 chassis manufactured in South Korea. Poland will build and install the guns and turrets on the howitzers—and also make the remaining 84 chassis, too.
The Poles want to add their own components and communications gear to the tracked vehicle, which is based on the South Korean K9 Thunder, and call it the AHS Krab.
Poland already has a handful of Krab guns, but this is a big order.
“Polish rocket and artillery units will receive the Krab howitzers quicker, which means that the national military security system will be reinforced earlier,” Krzysztof Trofiniak, president of Polish defense contractor Stalowa Wola Ironworks told Defense 24. “In the light of the growing threat, it is yet another factor which should also be taken into account.”
Poland is one of the few countries still buying mobile artillery and tanks in significant numbers—particularly in Europe. The biggest spenders are in Asia and the Middle East. There’s one very huge and overriding reason why.
Warsaw’s spending spree isn’t just about weapons. It’s part of a historic shift underway on the continent. Poland is NATO’s eastern firewall with Russia—and the country is home to the bulk of the alliance’s heavy armor.
Poland has the largest tank force in Europe west of Belarus, with 901 main battle tanks and hundreds more light tanks. These are largely Soviet-vintage T-72s, including 128 Leopard 2A4 tanks of German design. Poland is buying more than 100 Leopard 2A5s, which are considerably more modern than the 2A4.
This isn’t to mention the more than 1,700 armored fighting vehicles in Polish inventories.
But Poland’s artillery needs upgrading. Most of the country’s self-propelled howitzers are Soviet-era 2S1s—which use Russian artillery rounds as opposed to NATO shells sourced from within the alliance. Warsaw also has a smaller number of Dana howitzers.
The Krab is seriously heavy. Its 155-millimeter gun is larger than the 2S1’s cannon. The turret is British in origin, although Poland manufactures its own. The gun has double the 2S1’s range with a maximum extended range of 25 miles.
But the most important feature is a computerized fire control system called Topaz.
This number-crunching computer calculates where to aim the gun, and feeds the information up to battalion-level commanders using cables, digital radio transmissions and Ethernet. The system also has digital maps for the artillery crews to plan their fires.
It’s all part of a gradual ramp-up in Polish defense spending that kicked into overdrive after Russia’s invasion of Crimea.
Warsaw spends 1.95 percent of its gross domestic product—or nearly $9 billion—on its military. That’s set to rise above $9 billion in 2016. Poland has also boosted its weapons exports for years, doubling its arms licenses between 2007 and 2012, according to data from Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Its largest export customers—by far—are the the American and Canadian civilian arms markets. Poland also sells smaller quantities of rifles and submachine guns to Austria and Switzerland.
Poland’s imports of military hardware have remained steady, although imports spiked in 2007 and 2008 with the purchase of dozens of F-16 fighter jets from the United States.
The howitzers are just the beginning.
In November, Poland confirmed a $250 million deal to buy 40 long-range AGM-158 cruise missiles for the country’s F-16 fighter fleet—themselves set to undergo an upgrade, so the jets can equip and fire the missiles. The AGM-158 has a range of more than 200 miles, which puts most of Belarusian territory within range of Poland’s eastern border.
But 120 howitzers adds a lot more firepower on the ground. Plus, they’re mobile—to keep up with Poland’s new tanks.