Poland to Spend Billions to Modernize Military

Poland will spend 60 billion zloty (17.3 billion euros, $24.5 billion) to modernize its between 2009 and 2018, Poland's Defense Minister Bogdan Klich said Sept. 8.

"We want to launch several new programs to modernize the armed forces in the long term," Klich told reporters at the opening of an arms exhibition in Kielce. "I particularly want to launch a program of Polish surface-to-air missiles, to equip our forces with missile systems able to counteract short- and medium-range missiles."

The planned missile system is set to complement a U.S. missile shield that Washington plans to install in Poland by 2012.

Warsaw agreed Aug. 20 to the controversial shield comprising 10 interceptor missiles intended to destroy airborne long-range ballistic missiles.

Washington maintains the project is designed to counteract the threat of possible attacks by so-called "rogue states," notably Iran. But Russia, which regards the project as a grave threat to its national security, is vehemently opposed to the U.S. plan.

As part of the missile shield agreement with Warsaw, Washington has agreed to install a battery of Patriot surface-to-air missiles on Polish soil.

"The Patriots that will be installed in Poland from next year will serve as a basis for the construction of a national air defense system," Klich said.

The minister also intends to launch a program to equip the army with modern helicopters and another to build new naval ships.

Several other modernization programs are currently being worked on.

The Polish air force is due to receive the last of 48 U.S. F-16 fighter jets, while the army will receive Finnish-made armored personnel carriers and Israeli-made Spike anti-tank missiles.

In August, Poland announced it would switch from a conscript to fully professional military numbering 120,000 personnel from 2010.

Having shed communism and broken out of the Soviet sphere of influence in 1989, Poland joined NATO in 1999.

[Source: Defense News, AFP, Warsaw, 08Sep08]

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