The missile accident in Poland demonstrates the many gaps in NATO’s network of shared air defences, making it challenging to counter numerous contemporary threats.
Prior to the missile’s November 15 strike on the village of Przewodow on the country’s southeast border, Poland, a NATO member, had been bolstering its air defences. The eastern flank air defence shield will still take a long time for NATO to perfect, according to analysts, especially after decades of neglect in this region.
On November 16, Polish President Andrzej Duda and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg both suggested that a Ukrainian air defence missile may have been to blame for the incident. According to Stoltenberg, the shell may have been sent to intercept a Russian cruise missile, but it may have veered off course and landed in Poland instead.
This type of incident can occur in any military conflict, but it also demonstrates the urgent need for NATO to patch up the air defence system, particularly in light of the potential for unintended events to worsen the situation.
An unnamed NATO expert on air defence cautioned: “It’s only a matter of time before the incident happens.”
Many European nations disbanded a number of air defence units and reduced the size of the remaining forces after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War because they believed they would only have to deal with minor war threats, such as Iran.
Since Russia began a military campaign in Ukraine and Iran has used its missile arsenal and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to demonstrate its might on the Middle Eastern battlefield, this mentality has undergone a significant shift. Many NATO nations had to act quickly to figure out how to build up ammunition stocks and address issues with air defence systems.
During the Cold War, Germany had 36 Patriot anti-aircraft missile systems, and it still needs assistance from NATO. Only 12 Patriot systems are now in use by the nation, with two of those systems located in Slovakia. “They formerly possessed a genuine air defence belt. When people discuss NATO’s eastern flank defence network, this comes to mind. Things today are far from that “the unnamed expert claimed.
A document stating the aim to collectively order name systems was signed by Germany, Great Britain, Slovakia, Norway, Latvia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Romania, and Slovenia in the middle of October. the German IRIS-T short-range missile system, as well as long-range anti-aircraft missiles like the US Patriot and Israel’s Arrow 3
The action does not imply that the governments of these nations have approved plans to purchase long-range air defence systems and place orders with manufacturers, but it is a part of an effort to close the gap in NATO’s air defence.
The programme was introduced in response to Ukraine’s repeated requests for Western assistance in developing contemporary air defence systems to counter Russian airstrikes. In an effort to assist Kiev militarily, numerous nations depleted their stockpiles, worsening the weapons shortage.
Warsaw has invested over the years to improve its air defense capabilities, but still uses many Soviet-era systems such as the OSA and 2K12 Kub. “Poland needs to have advanced air defense systems and be able to control large areas within the next 10 years,” said Marek Swierczynski, a defense analyst at Polityka Insight in Poland.
Even so, the ordering and contract enforcement process is slow, and new systems take years to reach full combat readiness.
The US has supported Poland for the past few months, but air defense systems like Patriot are still not enough to control the entire airspace and promptly respond to unusual situations in the air. The appearance of many modern air defense complexes also does not guarantee the ability to intercept incoming missiles from neighboring countries.
“Countries can pour tons of money into air defense systems, but will never build a defensive shield capable of intercepting 100% of targets. That makes things like November 15 always happen. there is a risk of recurrence,” Swierczynski said.