08:12 GMT +319 June 2018
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    U.S. troops from 5th Battalion of the 7th Air Defense Regiment are seen at a test range in Sochaczew, Poland, on Saturday, March 21, 2015

    Patriots for Poland: Why US SAMs Can't Survive a Russian Iskander Missile Strike

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    Poland and the United States have signed an agreement on the delivery of US Patriot surface-to-air missile systems. Commenting on the deal, Russian military observer Alexander Khrolenko noted that it seems like Warsaw is eager to strengthen its status as a US 'mercenary', and explained why the Patriots wouldn't be able to stop Russian missiles.

    On Thursday, Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz confirmed that the Defense Ministry had signed an agreement with the US on the delivery of eight MIM-104 Patriot missile systems to the country following lengthy negotiations. The signing ceremony took place during President Donald Trump's visit to Warsaw, and the Raytheon-built mobile long-range air defense systems are expected to be delivered by 2022. Poland will spend an estimated $7.5 billion on the weapons.

    Warsaw approved the deal in the spring of 2015. However, Washington hesitated. RIA Novosti military observer Alexander Khrolenko wrote that this may have had to do with the previous administration's doubts over Russia's possible response to US missile systems in Eastern Europe. With this deal, the analyst noted, the Trump administration seems determined to shift its priorities, "and Warsaw has felt it."

    The Polish Defense Ministry's Wisla medium-range air defense system concept is designed to include eight Patriot batteries, equipped with IBCS command and control, along with GEM-T 3 and PAC-MSE missiles.

    Defense Minister Macierewicz boasted that the purchase of the Patriots would provide Poland with "safety against any enemy," and explicitly referred to the system's ability to "effectively counteract Russia's Iskander [mobile short-range ballistic missile] system."

    In Khrolenko's view, such "boring anti-Russian rhetoric from Warsaw doesn't contain anything new, having long turned into ritualistic oath of fealty to a set of ideals – i.e. to Washington's interests."

    The observer noted that the Russian Defense Ministry's reaction is not difficult to predict. It will consist of targeting conventional and nuclear missiles to the sites where the Patriots are deployed.

    Furthermore, Khrolenko explained that as far as Macierewicz's comments on the Patriots' defensive capabilities against Iskanders was concerned, the minister's claims were little more than wishful thinking.

    "An Iskander missile starts its flight along a difficult-to-predict quasi-ballistic curve," the analyst noted. "Then, it flies like a cruise missile, close to the ground, and comes up to its target from an optimal direction. It flies at supersonic speeds, so enemy radar can't see it, meaning it cannot be shot at by a Patriot. Existing and prospective air defense systems are powerless against the Iskander-M system."

    The Iskander-M missile system during a military machine demonstration at the Alabino training ground. File photo
    © Sputnik / Grigoriy Sisoev
    The Iskander-M missile system during a military machine demonstration at the Alabino training ground. File photo

    In other words, Khrolenko noted, the Patriot systems by themselves do not in any way alter the strategic balance in Eastern Europe. What concerns Moscow much, much more is the deployment of the US's Aegis missile defense system, armed with SM-3 anti-missile missiles, on Polish territory.  

    According to the observer, the problem with that system lies not in its defensive potential, but its offensive capabilities –specifically its ability to launch nuclear-armed BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles. In other words, "the Patriots in Poland fit into the US concept of Prompt Global Strike," Khrolenko warned.

    BGM-109 Tomahawk Land-Attack Missile (TLAM), seen here being launched from a US warship.
    BGM-109 Tomahawk Land-Attack Missile (TLAM), seen here being launched from a US warship.

    Late last year, military expert and Defense24.pl contributor Masymilian Dura wrote an analysis confirming that Polish military planners were fully aware of the US strategic plans, and would like to see their own air defense network integrated into the US system as much as possible.

    "Defense must be coordinated and multi-layered. It cannot be assumed that the Narew and Wisla systems will work independently…The same is true in the offensive sphere. For the sake of our own interests, such systems must be installed not just in Poland, but in emergencies, in the Baltic countries as well, particularly in Lithuania. This would allow us to monitor the Kaliningrad region from virtually every direction, which will complicate the use of defensive systems such as the S-400 and S-300," Dura wrote.

    An S-400 Triumf air defense missile system, seen here during the military parade in Moscow marking the 72nd anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945.
    © Sputnik / Grigory Sisoev
    An S-400 Triumf air defense missile system, seen here during the military parade in Moscow marking the 72nd anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945.

    In other words, Khrolenko observed, notwithstanding the fact that no one is threatening Poland, and that S-300s and S-400s cannot be considered an offensive threat even in principle, "President Andrzej Duda is hoping that the US contingent in Poland is increased; he is aiming to become Washington's best friend in Eastern Europe, even outside the NATO framework. Today, Poland has a 3,500-strong mechanized brigade on its soil. What will happen tomorrow?"

    Warsaw's plans include the deployment of sixty M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) with an operational range of 300 km for its 'Homar' program by 2018 (reports suggest that deal is close to being signed). For now, the military uses the domestically developed WR-40 Langusta self-propelled MRLS system, a modernization of the Soviet Cold War-era BM-21 Grad.

    US High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS)
    US High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS)

    The Defense Ministry is also looking into acquiring JASSM missiles for its F-16 multirole fighters, medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles, attack helicopters and a second regiment of coastal missile defenses.

    "All of this," Khrolenko wrote, "is part of the accelerated plan for the modernization of the Polish Armed Forces," which focuses on things like 'increased offensive capabilities' and an expansion of 'containment potential'. But notwithstanding Warsaw's zeal, the thirst for US weapons is something akin to a double-edged sword, and Warsaw will have to pay for the privilege, according to the observer.

    "Patriot and Homar are complex and expensive; their deployment and use mean that the country will be tightly bound (technologically and financially) to the US military-industrial complex. If many facilities necessitating a US military presence (instructors, technical service) are based in Poland, they will require protection. This means having a developed infrastructure, and in turn, additional costs, along with a heightened risk of escalating military conflict with neighbors."

    US soldiers are pictured prior the beginning of the official welcoming ceremony of NATO troops in Orzysz, Poland, on April 13, 2017.
    © AFP 2018 / Wojtek RADWANSKI
    US soldiers are pictured prior the beginning of the official welcoming ceremony of NATO troops in Orzysz, Poland, on April 13, 2017.

    But the most important issue, according to Khrolenko, is that Warsaw seems content with its status as a "diligent mercenary, and not an ally (because allies have equal rights)" for Washington, notwithstanding the tremendous risks associated with being a frontline state.

    "From ancient times to the present, some states have tried to conquer large areas of the world, to force subjugated populations to pay a tribute and to promote their interests. In the countries of the EU and NATO, this old scheme continues to operate – for the benefit of the US. If Poland is prepared to become the obedient frontline state in the US's swashbuckling struggle against 'Russian aggression', it will have to pay dearly for it, for now only monetarily," the analyst concluded.

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    Tags:
    F-16, High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), Tomahawk, Iskander-M, Wisla air defense system, Patriot missile system, NATO, Polish Armed Forces, Antoni Macierewicz, Russia, United States, Poland
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