Polish Operational Lessons Learned Begin to Shape Future Force Structure

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Polish Operational Lessons Learned Begin to Shape Future Force Structure
From a briefing by General Franciszek Gagor, Chief of the General Staff, Polish Armed Forces, at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), London. By Andrew Drwiega

In a comprehensive summary entitled Polish Lessons Learned from Operations and Defence Transformation, General Franciszek Gagor, Chief of the General Staff, Polish Armed Forces outlined how Poland’s armed forces were being reshaped through experiences learned not only as a NATO member, but also those gained while working the United Nations operations in places like Syria (since 1974) and Lebanon (1992). This also included being part of EU battle groups in Macedonia among others. In fact it was a surprise to hear that more than 60,000 Polish troops have been deployed abroad in 60 operations since 1953.
The Polish government recently decided to draw down its forces in Iraq to the point where all fighting units will have returned home by October this year. However, this will have a positive spin-off for Afghanistan where troop commitment is expected to rise from around 1,200 to 1,600.
Of the main lessons learned by the Poles, not only from foreign deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, but also from membership of NATO and participating with other NATO nations in coalition, was the need for the command structure to reflect be a ‘purple’ jointness. This has been done with essentially three elements: Joint Operations Command (the force user), Joint Support Command and the Joint Medical Inspectorate. Under these come the various armed services but with the addition of combining all Special Forces under a joint command. “This was a decision based on the growing requirement for Special Forces operationally,” said Gagor. “It was fundamental that dedicated operational planners for SOF operations be identified and brought together.” He added that by 2009 the Air Force would also have elements that specialised in the transport of SOF.
“Helicopters are precious. Without helicopters, in our experience, infantry should not be sent out as this makes them very vulnerable,” said Gagor. He added that the real ‘show stopper’ is a force without mobile medical care and helicopters. The creation of the Joint Medical Inspectorate was to address the problem of having mobile, deployable medical facilities. He said that the Cold War static model and its dependence on the civilian sector for medical care was being changed.
Gagor commented that Polish Forces would be deploying to Afghanistan additional helicopters – Mi-8s, Mi-17s and Mi-24s - that had been bought (not brand new but with better engines) to provide capability in ‘hot and height’ conditions. However, they all needed to be upgraded with defensive countermeasures, engine exhaust diffusers, armour, upgraded communications, IFF and night vision capability. “Helicopters,” Gagor concluded, “provided a good feeling to soldiers; feelings that they had good chances to survive [if attacked or if injured].”
Intel through HUMINT has also been recognised as a requirement and the number of experts that will be available to future, deployed battle groups will be increased. In common with all other armed forces the utility of Unmanned Systems has been recognised, both in the air and on the ground. Gagor said that UAVs were relatively new to Polish forces although small ones had been used by them in Iraq: “We need a family of UAVs at all levels, tactical, operational and, in time, strategic.”
Types in service included ‘force protection robots’ – UGVs involved in countering the IED threat and the removal of IEDs. “We are doing a lot of testing in the field,” he said.
He concluded by saying that today’s operations could not be successfully prosecuted by conscripts and that by 2010 Poland’s Armed Forces would number around 150,000 - all volunteer - backed by a short time readiness force of around 30,000 reservists.