US approves $1.2 billion sale of military airships to Poland

The US State Department has approved the proposed $1.2 billion (4.8 billion zloty) sale to Poland of four radar reconnaissance airships capable of detecting airborne targets. In addition to airships themselves, the deal includes related elements of logistics and programme support.

The purchase of the Airspace and Surface Radar Reconnaissance (ASRR) aerostat systems will allow the Polish armed forces to monitor the skies “on a whole new level”, says Polish deputy defence minister, Paweł Bejda. The equipment is used to detect low-flying aerial targets such as cruise missiles and drones.

Dobre wieści zza oceanu. Departament Stanu USA zezwolił na sprzedaż Polsce 4 aerostatów rozpoznawczych. Wkrótce zakończenie negocjacji i podpisanie umowy. Po dostawie nowych systemów do #WojskoPolskie monitorowanie nieba wejdzie na zupełnie nowy poziom.

— Paweł Bejda (@pawelbejda) February 7, 2024

“The proposed sale will improve Poland’s capability to meet current and future threats of enemy air and ground weapons systems,” wrote the State Department in an official statement.

“Poland will use the capability as an airborne early warning system to defend against incoming regional threats. This will also enable Poland to increase its contribution to future NATO operations. Poland will have no difficulty absorbing this equipment into its armed forces,” it added.

Now that approval has been given, negotiations will soon be finalised and the deal signed, said Bejda. Raytheon Intelligence and Space, TCOM, ELTA North America and Avantus Federal LLC (a subsidiary of QinetiQ, Inc.) are to be the primary contractors.

A missile, reportedly Russian, landed in Poland in December but remained unfound until being discovered in April, reportedly by a member of the public.

The opposition has called for the defence minister to be sacked, but he blames a top general

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) May 12, 2023

Aerostats can detect low-flying air targets from a distance of several hundred kilometres whereas ground-based radars can, when placed in a flat area, observe an object at a height of 100m from a distance of 47km, reports industry news service Defence24.

Although analytical work on acquiring aerostats for Poland has been underway since at least 2017, the request to the US for their purchase was not submitted until May 2023, under the previous Law and Justice (PiS) government.

In that same month, it emerged that a Russian missile had entered Polish airspace and landed on Polish territory six months earlier but remained completely undetected. In December, another Russian missile was detected entering Polish airspace from Ukraine.

Program #Barbara na ostatniej prostej – aerostaty do wykrywania celów niskolecących zatwierdzone przez Departament Stanu #USA @Defence24pl

— Defence24 (@Defence24pl) February 7, 2024

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Poland has embarked on a military spending spree, including signing deals for hundreds of tanks and howitzers from the US and South Korea. Warsaw is also buying Patriot air defence systems, HIMARS rocket launchers and F-35 combat aircraft from the US.

The previous PiS government pledged to increase Poland’s defence spending to 4% of GDP in 2023. According to NATO’s own estimates, Poland was close to meeting that target, spending $29.1 billion, or 3.9% of its GDP, in 2023. That was the highest relevant level in the alliance.

However, the new ruling coalition, which replaced PiS in December, has said it will review deals signed by its predecessors and might cancel some of them.

Two leaders of Poland’s incoming ruling coalition say the new administration could cancel arms deals signed by the outgoing government in its final weeks in office.

That includes a $2.6 billion deal with South Korea to purchase howitzers

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) December 12, 2023

Main image credit:  Donna Burton / Wikimedia (under public domain)

Alicja Ptak is senior editor at Notes from Poland and a multimedia journalist. She previously worked for Reuters.

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