France recently offered Poland something Poland had never had before; a weapon that could strike deep inside Russia and that was difficult to destroy before it was used. This unexpected offer began when Poland noted that it needed more submarines. The Polish Navy currently has five submarines: one Kilo-class and four Kobben-class which were acquired from Norway for free during 2001/2002. “Free” was a high price because the Kobbens are already about 50 years old. Their functionality and reliability are often questionable.
To deal with the Kobben Crisis the Polish Navy suggested, in March 2012, that at least three modern submarines be acquired to replace the Kobbens. In early 2014 negotiations began with potential suppliers of four submarines. Poland is willing to pay up to $450 million per sub and there are now four candidates; the Swedish A-26, German U212A or U214 and French Scorpene. The Swedes and Germans were thought to have the edge because both nations had built and operated subs in the Baltic for over a century. France remained in contention by offering something Poland wanted but neither Germany or Sweden had; submarine launched cruise missiles. These are the MdCN cruise missiles with a range of “more than” 1,000 kilometers. The cruise missiles are not being supplied by the sub manufacturer but by the French government itself.
MdCN is a naval version of the SCALP/Storm Shadow cruise missile. Development began in 1999 and MdCN made its first underwater launch in 2011. MdCN is scheduled to enter service in French subs in 2017, which would be in time to equip Polish Scorpenes. The French offer is valid only as a package (submarines plus missiles in one contract). These missiles will allow Poland to strike strategic targets in Russia ignoring the “Belarus buffer”. That puts Moscow in range of a Polish sub cruising under water in the Baltic (off the Baltic States, for example). These missiles could also be used to attack Russian air bases that had to be moved deeper into Belarus when Poland acquired JASSM missiles. The Russians take these stealthy Western cruise missiles (JASSM is air launched but otherwise similar to MdCN) seriously and ordered their warplanes and support facilities in Belarus moved farther from the Polish border when they learned JASSM was on the way.
The Baltic Sea has plenty of areas where submarines can easily hide. The Russians have exploited this for decades and recently got caught doing so in Swedish territorial waters. Thus one or two Polish Scorpenes each with up to 18 cruise missiles could easily stay undetected in the early stages of a Russian threat or attack and then fire their missiles on strategic targets in Russia. This would include oil and natural gas pipeline facilities, power plants (which take a long time to replace) and symbolic items like the Kremlin. If Poland goes for the French offer they would be joining the very small “club” of cruise missiles users
It is believed that one reason France made this offer was to repair relations with Poland that had been damaged by the “Mistral” sale for Russia. That sale is now frozen by sanctions but the Poles believe that will eventually be cleared up. Although the Russians said they were sending the Mistrals to the Pacific, these amphibious ships are also well suited for supporting operations against Baltic nations (like former Russian possessions Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia). As the same time the French are also recognizing that the Polish military modernization program has been very real and are trying win in few lucrative parts of it.
Despite the attractiveness of the French offer many senior Polish military leaders don’t want strategic cruise missiles on the new subs and are trying to modify the submarine contract to exclude it. Many politicians (and most Poles) like the idea of Polish subs carrying missiles that can hit Moscow. The Ministry of Defense continues to oppose the MdCN proposal suggesting that the senior ministry officials may have already decided who will win the competition. Some sources point to the German U212A/U214 as the preferred winner.--- Przemys&&22;aw Juraszek