Poland recently concluded a deal with the United States to purchase 250 M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks (MBT), which the Eastern European NATO ally will use to bolster its defenses as Russia has been increasingly assertive in recent years.

“Of course this is a response to the challenges we face in terms of international security,” Poland’s Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak told reporters during a news conference earlier this month. “Our task is to deter a potential aggressor. We all know where that aggressor is.”

The $6 billion (23.3 billion zloty) deal also includes logistics and training packages along with ammunition and upgraded infrastructure for the vehicles. It is to be paid outside of Warsaw’s regular defense budget. The tanks are expected to begin to arrive in Poland early next year.

The purchase of the American-built M1A2 tanks follows another deal in May, in which Poland announced that it would buy 24 armed drones from Turkey – and in turn Poland became the first NATO member to buy Turkish-made unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Tank Competition

Warsaw’s decision to acquire the latest SEP V3 variant of the Abrams tank comes at the expense of the German-made Leopard 2 and the South Korean K2 Black Panther, each of which had been considered by Warsaw.

Germany and South Korea had sought to supply the Polish military with additional armored vehicles, and last year the South Korean-based Hyundai Rotem even prepared a broad framework of cooperation in response to the Polish “Wilk” MBT procurement program requires. The K2PL Wilk design was to be based directly on the K2 Black Panther, while addressing requirements defined by the Polish Ministry of Defense.

The Polish military already operates tanks from three different countries, including 250 modern German Leopard 2A4 and 2A5; upwards of 380 Soviet-era T-72 tanks; and nearly 250 PT-91 Twardy tanks, the Polish-built variant of the T-72M1 with enhanced sensors and fire control. The American M1 will reportedly replace the oldest variants of the Cold War T-72 and PT-91 tanks, while the most modernized versions of those will likely remain in service.

Warsaw has also been working with Germany to bring up its older Leopard 2 tanks to modernized Leopard 2PL standard.

Bulwark to Russian Aggression

Defense Minister Błaszczak has said that the American M1A2 Abrams would likely be deployed to eastern Poland, where the armored vehicles could be a “first line of defense” near the borders of Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania, as well as the highly militarized Russia exclave of Kaliningrad. Eastern Poland is home to the Suwalki gap, which connects NATO Baltic States to the rest of NATO. With its sizable tank force, Poland already serves as an armored bulwark to counter Russian aggression – and it currently operates 13 battalions, equal to the combined MBT force of France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

The 250 new American MBTs will be enough to outfit four battalions with fifty-eight tanks each. Three of the four units have been named and include 18th Mechanized Division, in particular its sub-units the 1st Warsaw Armored Brigade based at Wesoła and the 19th Mechanized Brigade at Lublin. It has also been reported that the tanks will likely be aided by the presence of a rotating U.S. Army armored brigade combat team, which could even aid in training of the Polish Army.

Old But Combat Proven

The M1 Abrams was developed in the 1970s to close what at the time looked like a ‘tank’ gap with the Soviet Union. After the MBT-70 American-West German joint project to develop a new tank ended in failure, the U.S. Congress then directed the U.S. Army to go it alone – and despite strict cost and time limits, the result was just the tank the Army needed.

Named for the late General Creighton W. Abrams, former Army Chief of Staff and commander of the 37th Armored Battalion, the M1 Abrams main battle tank (MBT) became the backbone of the armored forces of the United States military when it was introduced in 1980. The M1 was proven in battle where it devastated Soviet-built tanks in the Persian Gulf War in 1991. During the conflict, just eighteen Abrams tanks were taken out of service due to battle damage and only nine were permanent losses – a tiny fraction of what Iraqi forces lost and more importantly, not a single Abrams crewman was lost in the conflict.

The M1A2 Abrams SEP V3 variant is a greatly upgraded version of the 40-year-old M1 tank that first entered service with the U.S. military when TV’s Dallas was all the rage.

The latest 73-ton SEP V3 variant is armed with a powerful 120mm main gun, and features advanced optical and thermal sides. The new variant also includes an improved auxiliary power unit, which allows the tank to power its systems without running the main engine. It also includes a new computer, a Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station (CROWS) .50-caliber machine gun, a data-link allowing it to program Advanced Multi-Purpose shells to airburst, and an anti-Improvised Explosive Device (IED) wireless jammer, as well as upgrades to the armor package.

 

 

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at petersuciu@gmail.com.