Sunday, November 27, 2005

1st Warsaw Armored Brigade – Polish Land Forces


On Thursday, 24 November 2005 I took my students on a tour to 1st Warsaw Armored Brigade in Wesola near Warsaw. It was my second visit in this unit after more than twelve years. And there was a good opportunity to sum up, what the Polish Land Forces did, since Poland joint Partnership for Peace program in Spring 1994. Now Poland is NATO member since almost seven years.
1st Warsaw Armored Brigade is a part of 1st Warsaw Mechanized Division from Legionowo. The parent division presently consists of the following units: 1st Warsaw Armored Brigade (Wesoła), 3rd Mechanized Brigade of the Legions (Lublin), 21st Brigade of the Podhale Riflemen (Rzeszow; mountain infantry unit), 1st Ciechanow Artillery Regiment (Ciechanow; 152 mm Dana howitzers, BM-21 Grad), 15th Goldap Anti-Aircraft Regiment (Goldap; armed with Kub /SA-6/), 1st Legionowo Commanding Battalion (Legionowo), 1st Siedlce Reconnaissance Battalion (Siedlce), 15th Masurian Combat Engineering Battalion (Orzysz), 1st Supply Battalion (Legionowo), 1st Medical Battalion (Legionowo), 1st Lomza Repair Battalion (Lomza).

In 1992 the unit (as a regiment) had only one tank battalion with
31 T-72M1. Photo Michal Fiszer

In 1992 when I was in the unit, it was 1st Warsaw Mechanized Regiment. It consisted of two mechanized infantry battalions, a tank battalion, an artillery battalion, anti-aircraft battery, anti-tank battery, a reconnaissance company, engineering company, supply company, maintenance company and medical company. The 1st Mechanized Regiment was the only Polish unit, which used BMP-2 combat infantry vehicles in the both battalions. At that time there were difficulties in procuring in Russia ammunition for 30 mm gun and 9M113 Konkurs missiles for the BMP-2 and the regiment also had a stock of BMP-1 armored infantry combat vehicles (AICVs) for mobilization. Totally there were 60 BMP-2 and the same number of BMP-1.

One of the unit's BMP-2, in 1994 sold to Mosambique.
Photo Michal Fiszer

The tank battalion had 31 T-72M1 tanks and the reconnaissance company had 10 BRDM-2 reconnaissance wheeled vehicles. Interestingly, the air defense battery was one of the few Polish units equipped with Strela-1M (SA-9) launchers (4 pieces), along with popular ZSU-23-4 Shilka (also four pieces). Additionally the battery had Strela-2 launchers. The anti-tank battery had 9 self-propelled launchers 9P133 with six 9M14 Malutka (AT-3) each. There were also 12 mortars of 120 mm caliber in the both infantry battalions along with some anti-tank weapons (RPG-7), a few Skot wheeled APCs in command and engineering versions, BLG assault bridges and some engineering equipment, along with trucks of various types. All the equipment, including radio-sets, were of Warsaw Pact standard and the unit still was trained in accordance to existing manuals. However since 1991 the attention in training was switched from attack operations to maneuver defense operations.

The 9P133 launcher used by the unit's anti-tank battery. Now the 1st Armored Brigade do not have anti-tank battery.
Photo Michal Fiszer

In 1994 the regiment was reformed into brigade. More or less at the same time the troublesome BMP-2 were sold to Mozambique and the brigade was formed as armored unit, with reversed proportion between infantry and tanks. Now two tank battalions were formed, and one of it was recently rearmed with PT-91 Twardy tanks, being a deep modernization of Soviet T-72M1. PT-91 has new digital fire-control system with atmospheric sensor, new passive thermal observation devices, up-rated engine and new reactive armor developed in Poland.

Below and above: PT-91 tank, one of the 40 tanks of the type used by the brigade.
Photo Michal Fiszer


Now the brigade has 40 PT-91 Twardy tanks in the 1st Tank Battalion and 40 T-72M1 tanks in the 2nd Tank Battalion. The latter is not fully deployed unit and has to be mobilized in the case of war. All the tanks are equipped with NATO compatible communication equipment. In the future they will be also equipped with digitized command and control system. The single infantry battalion is now armed with 40 BMP-1s, being roughly the same as the vehicles used by the unit in 80s (before issue of BMP-2), only with new radios.

T-72M1 tanks, 40 of such tanks are still used by 2nd Tank Battalion of the Brigade.
Photo Michal Fiszer

Now the BMP-1 AICVs seems to have inadequate armor protection and poor armament in the form of 73 mm grenade launcher and 9M14 Malutka anti-tank missile launcher. The brigade waits for wheeled Patria APCs, which are in license production in Poland under name of “Rosomak”. However 690 ordered vehicles are to be firstly issued to mechanized infantry unit and since some of the ordered vehicles are to be made in specialized version (so the procured number of APCs in basic version will be enough only for infantry brigades), the armored brigades will be left with tracked vehicles (still obsolete BMP-1s).

2S1 Gvozdika howitzer of 1st Armored Brigade.
Photo Michal Fiszer


The artillery battalion still uses the same 12 self-propelled howitzers (2S1 Gvozdika, 122mm caliber) and the brigade also has 6 pieces of 120 mm mortars towed by trucks. The anti-tank battery was removed, typically for organization of armored brigade. The air defense battery lost its Strela-1, which were replaced by six ZUR-23-2. The latter are ZU-23-2 towed guns coupled with two Grom (Igla; SA-18) launchers attached to them. ZUR-23-2 are towed by trucks. The four ZSU-23-4 guns remained without changes. It is striking that the anti-tank and the air defense firepower of the brigade is inadequate. It is the case in most of the Polish land forces units. The brigades which will receive Rosomak APCs, will also receive NTD Spike anti-tank missiles. However the air defense still remains the problem. To add more, the divisional 15th Air Defense Regiment has four batteries of Kub (SA-6) with four launchers and a fire control radar in every battery, so the system is also getting obsolete. Basically the whole ground air defense in Polish Army is getting less and less effective, despite replacing old Strela-2 with Grom (Polish Igla-1 /SA=16/ produced on license, but modernized and similar to Igla system /SA-18/) and slow modernization of Kub systems, the air defense definitely needs some boost.

Above: Strela-1M used by 1st Mechanized Regiment in 1992, along with ZSU-23-4. Now the 1st Armored Brigade uses the same ZSU-23-4 and the ZUR-23-2 (below).
Both photos Michal Fiszer


1st Warsaw Armored Brigade still remains a homeland defense unit but is NATO compatible and can take a part in combat within NATO Combat echelon. It is the only heavy unit between Belarus and Warsaw and along with 3rd Mechanized Brigade would form the main defense of the area to the south-east from Polish capital in the case of armed aggression from the east. In front of it there will be two territorial defense brigades, the 2nd TD Brigade from Minsk Mazowiecki and 14th TD Brigade from Przemysl.
The concept of the homeland defense can be described as “wolves-hedgehogs-wasps” concept. Wolves bites, hedgehogs pricks and the wasps stings. The territorial defense brigades will form defense based on the urban areas (hedgehogs) and in rural areas they will delay the enemy advance by traps, hit and run attacks and other similar actions. The main forces of mechanized and armor units would form maneuver type of defense, massed on the main threat directions (wolves groups). And the special forces along with air force will attack the rear areas of the advancing forces (wasps). All the action is aimed as delay the enemy advance until the NATO reinforcement arrive and to inflict as much loses to the enemy as possible, to discourage the enemy for farther action.
But 1st Armored Brigade also has tasks related to the in-country crisis management, like disaster relief or maintain security in the case of domestic unrest. In the case of terrorist attack, the unit will provide troops for law enforcement and order maintaining tasks. The brigade has now more and more contract soldiers, however almost 900 soldiers out of 1500+ brigade personnel are still conscripts, serving now for only 9 months. Increasing number of contract soldiers (professional privates on 4-years contract) will allow to form all the PT-91 tank crews out of them since conscripts rather damage sophisticated equipment than operate it.

BLG Assault bridge. Three such units are in the brigade.
Photo Michal Fiszer
Generally I think that there is much to do in Polish land forces. The best part are the deployable units, namely 6th Air Assault Brigade and the 25th Air Cavalry Brigade (airmobile, infantry transported by helicopters). They are light units, easy to deploy and prepared for foreign missions. The existing mechanized infantry brigades will all convert to “Rosomak” wheeled APCs and will form “medium” component of Polish land forces (like American Striker Combat Teams). They will be issued with modern equipment, like Spike anti-tank missiles, new command and control systems etc and will be of double destination – home defense and overseas operations. In the latter tasks, the medium brigades will be better prepared for more hostile environment than light infantry units. The armored brigades however will have to serve with only minor equipment modernizations for some years to come. Only the 10th Armored Cavalry Brigade from Swietoszow is equipped with ex-German equipment, including Leopard 2A4 tanks and M113 APCs, and the unit is presently declared to NATO.

TRI engeeniring reconnaissance vehicle based on MTLB APC used by the 1st Armored Brigade.
Photo Michal Fiszer

2 Comments:

At 8:34 AM, Blogger Eric Blair said...

I cannot help but feel that this poly-got composition of forces in the end, makes the entire force unsustainable in the long run.

The issues of trying coordinate spare parts, people who know how to operate, maintain, and fix the various pieces of equipment is an added stress that is unwise.

Not that I have a solution, mind you.

 
At 4:30 PM, Blogger Michal A. Fiszer said...

The T-72M1 and PT-91 are not much different, in terms of spare parts. Ultimately there will be only PT-91, in the both battalions. The remaining equipment is typical for a brigade size unit.

 

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