By the 2030s, Poland will have more tanks than the U.K., Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy combined.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Polish government is embarking on a multi-billion dollar upgrade of its ground forces. The improvements are designed to deter, and if necessary, defeat Russia if it continues its march west.
Poland has a history of being a stomping ground for larger, more powerful countries, and Warsaw’s purchase of nearly 1,300 new American and South Korean tanks is a strong signal those days are over.
Last week, Sterling Heights, Michigan-based General Dynamics Land Systems announced a contract with the Polish government to build 250 M1A2 System Enhancement Program version 3 (SEPv3) Abrams main battle tanks.
The contact is worth $1.15 billion, or $4.6 million per tank. It’s part of an even larger $6 billion deal that includes 26 M88A2 Hercules armored recovery vehicles, 17 M1110 Joint Assault Bridges, 776 tank machine guns, and about 33,000 rounds of tank gun ammunition. The deal also includes training simulators, technical manuals, and funds for paying 74 U.S. government and civilian contractor personnel over the next five years.
The 250 Abrams tanks will go to the 1st Warsaw Armored Brigade, part of the newly-raised 18th Mechanized Division. The first tanks, Defense News reports, will arrive in 2025.
In the meantime, the U.S. Army is loaning the Polish Land Forces 28 M1A2 tanks, used at the new Abrams Tank Training Academy at Poland’s Biedrusko Training Area.
Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak during the contract-signing ceremony for the purchase of 250 Abrams tanks for the Polish Army’s 1st Warsaw Armored Brigade.
The M1A2SEPv3 is the latest version of the M1 Abrams main battle tank. First introduced in the early 1980s, the M1A2SEPv3 includes more than four decades of improvements, including a larger 120-millimeter main gun; depleted uranium armor; CROWS-LP remote-controlled machine guns; third-generation forward-looking infrared sights; digital command, control, and communications hardware and software; and a new Ammunition Data Link, which allows the tank to use computer-controlled tank gun ammo.
This deal comes after an even larger one between Poland and South Korea for 980 K2 Black Panther tanks, 648 K-9 Krab self-propelled howitzers, and 48 FA-50 advanced trainer/light fighter aircraft. Poland will import the first batch of 180 K2PL tanks, with another 800 manufactured in Poland, under the name “Wilk” (“Wolf”).
Under the terms of the deal, Poland will acquire 980 K2 “Black Panther” main battle tanks, renaming the tank “Wilks” (“Wolf”). K2 tank shown in South Korean service, 2015.
Chung Sung-Jun//Getty Images
Developed by Hyundai, the K2PL is a Polish variant of South Korea’s latest main battle tank and in the same category as the American Abrams. Like the Abrams, the K2PL is also equipped with a 120-millimeter main gun, though the gun barrel is slightly longer to impart a greater muzzle velocity. The gun is served by an automatic loading system, reducing the human crew to three. The K2PL is heavily armored and includes the Korean Active Protection System, designed to intercept incoming rockets and anti-tank missiles. K2PL weighs 55 tons, making it lighter than the 68-ton M1 Abrams.
The M1A2 and K2PL tanks will replace Cold War-era T-72 tanks, slightly newer PT-91 Twardy tanks, and Leopard 2PL tanks in Polish Army service. This will take Poland from 972 older tanks to 1,280 new tanks. Poland also has the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) on order, as well as F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
Poland, located in the center of Europe, has suffered greatly in European power conflicts. Modern Poland was established in 1918 and conquered by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in 1939; more than five million Poles perished in the war. From 1945 to 1989, Poland was a captive state of the Warsaw Pact.
Modern Poland has adopted a strongly pro-Western, anti-Russian stance, and Poland’s booming economy has allowed it to spend up to 3 percent of its GDP on defense—twice as much as Germany. Russia’s invasion of Poland’s neighbor, Ukraine, has sounded the alarm bell and Poland is determined to deter any further drive westward.
The 1,230 new tanks will easily make Poland’s tank fleet the largest and most modern in European NATO. By the 2030s, Poland will have more tanks than the United Kingdom, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy combined.
Russia, Poland’s main adversary and the world’s largest tank operator, had 2,800 tanks in active service before the start of the invasion of Ukraine, with another 10,000 older tanks in storage. Russia has since lost at least 989 of its best tanks in six months of war. The U.S. Army is second with 6,333 tanks, with about half of those in active service. China is third with an estimated 5,800 tanks.