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Poland Buys Four Barbara aerostat systems to Detect Low Level Flying Russian Missiles

Warsaw upgraded its air defense on May 22 as part of the Barbara initiative, acquiring four aerostats to provide continuous radar surveillance of Polish airspace. The aerostats will primarily monitor low altitudes, where Russian low-flying missiles can penetrate. 

“Today’s contract for the purchase of modern Barbara aerostat systems strengthens the currently operated radar systems. The new equipment will enable the detection of low-flying objects and surface targets. Security is our priority,” said Polish Minister of Defense Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz.

Building an anti-aircraft and anti-missile air defense system is one of the Polish Ministry of Defense’s top goals. The curvature of the Earth presents one of the most significant obstacles to air defense, resulting in poor radar coverage at low flight levels. The geographical contour and other natural and artificial obstructions pose additional hurdles for radar coverage. As a result, it is financially and technically difficult and personnel-intensive to cover all flight levels across the entire state territory solely using ground radars. 

For example, a year ago when a Russian low-flying missile, the Kh-55, traveled virtually undetected for several tens of minutes in Polish airspace. As a result, Warsaw quickly bought two Swedish Saab 340 AEW&C turboprops for airspace command and radar monitoring. The first aircraft arrived in March, with the second expected in the coming months. These aircraft will boost radar coverage of Polish airspace at low flight levels and help aerial and ground troops coordinate their actions more effectively. Advanced AEW&C platforms are scheduled to be purchased later. 

Another key step toward low-level radar coverage, particularly for tracking low-flying missiles, drones, and helicopters, is the $960 million purchase of four American aerostats through the Barbara program. The contract was executed under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) legislative and legal framework with the US government. The purchase will be financed with a loan from the US government. Poland will be the first European country to deploy modern aerostat devices to detect and track low-flying targets. Warsaw has been exploring purchasing aerostats since 2017. In May 2023, in reaction to the Kh-55 incident, Warsaw requested proposals to acquire Barbara aerostats. The Letter of Request (LoR) is the initial stage in the FMS process, which foreign countries use to begin formal discussions with the US government. 

The US Department of State granted approval for the transaction in February of this year. Subsequently, Congress approved the sale, and negotiations began for a Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA), which was signed yesterday. When a foreign customer signs the LOA, they officially accept the offer and the deal terms. The LOA becomes a legally binding agreement between the United States and foreign customers.

The first aerostat will arrive in 2026, with full operating capabilities expected in the first quarter 2027. The remaining three aerostats will be delivered by the end of the third quarter of the same year. The full system is projected to be ready by the end of 2027. Each aerostat will have a radar reconnaissance system, most likely the Israeli EL/M-2083 observation radar and Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) systems. The ground section will include a control center, mooring platform, meteorological station, and power sources. The contract also included a logistics package with service, technical support, spare parts, and training. The EL/M-2083 radar will identify airborne objects continuously (24/7), even at distances more than 300 kilometers. Radar can spot large bombers or cargo aircraft up to 500 kilometers away. 

The aerostat’s operational altitude will be 4000 meters above ground level. It can track missiles, drones, and surface targets in the Baltic Sea. The newly formed Radio-Technical Battalion, headquartered in Czerwony Bór, will manage and operate the aerostats. The Battalion will handle the four aerostat sites located in: – Karbowskie, Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship; – Kurzyna Wielka, Ulanów municipality, Podkarpackie Voivodeship; – Pobik, Ciechanowiec municipality, Podlaskie Voivodeship; – Sędzice, Biskupiec municipality, Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship. 

The biggest criticism is that aerostats are relatively easy to destroy during a war. However, Poland will be aware of the impending war months in advance since it can track the concentration of Russian forces on its borders. 



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