Poland to buy US rocket system for US$414 million

The HIMARS system, seen here in action during a 2016 US military exercise in the Philippines, allows a precision attack ability even in poor weather. (AFP pic)

WARSAW: Poland said Sunday it will buy mobile rocket launchers worth US$414 million (365 million euros) from the United States, as Warsaw seeks closer ties with Washington amid concerns over a resurgent Russia.

The deal, due to be signed Wednesday, will “significantly increase the Polish army’s capacities,” Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak told journalists Sunday, adding that delivery was expected by 2023.

Made by US weapons giant Lockheed Martin, the HIMARS system can launch six guided rockets with a range of 70 kilometres (37 miles), or a single missile with a 300-kilometre range.

It is already being used by 19 countries and has been deployed in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State group, allowing US troops a precision attack ability even in poor weather when air attacks are hindered.

In March last year, Warsaw already signed a US$4.75 billion contract to purchase a US-made Patriot anti-missile system.

Poland’s rightwing government has been pushing for the United States to open a permanent military base on its soil, where American troops are already stationed on a rotational basis as part of NATO operations.

However, the head of the US Army said in September 2018 that Poland might not be ready for a permanent military base because of an apparent lack of space to fulfil the training requirements for American soldiers.

Two years ago, NATO opened a counter-espionage hub in Poland aimed at expanding the alliance’s intelligence-gathering capabilities following tensions with Russia over its 2014 annexation of Crimea.

The US-led alliance has also bolstered its forces in eastern Europe with four international battalions acting as tripwires against possible Russian adventurism in the region.

Poland this week is set to host US Vice-President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for a two-day conference on security issues in the Middle East.

Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, close advisors to US President Donald Trump, are also expected to attend the event starting Tuesday, along with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.