Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, Deputy Prime Minister – Minister of National Defense, together with Cezary Tomczyk, Deputy Minister of National Defense and General Wiesław Kukuła, Chief of the General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces (pictured from left), presented information on the “East Shield” program. (MND)

WARSAW — On May 18, Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk made the first mention of a program codenamed “East Shield,” a massive zł10 billion (over $2.55 billion) investment in strengthening the physical border with Belarus and Russia.

“We’ll make the Polish border secure in peacetime and impassable for the enemy in wartime,” Tusk said. “We do this to deter the enemy. So that all those who wish Poland ill, all those who plan an attack, an aggression against our allies or against our country … stay away from Poland! Poland is strong, Poland will be safe thanks to its own actions and thanks to its own allies.”

However, few details were made immediately public. Instead, the government waited until a May 27 press event, hosted by Minister of National Defense Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, his deputy Cezary Tomczyk and Gen. Wiesław Kukuła, Chief of the General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces, to lay out more details.

In essence, East Shield will be a mix of physical barriers designed to slow incoming forces and higher-end surveillance systems, including some powered by artificial intelligence. It also includes preparing forward operating bases, preparing logistic nodes and creating appropriate infrastructure for anti-drone systems. It’s probably not fair to think of it as a modern Maginot line, but rather an attempt to use modern capabilities to strengthen both defense and awareness of the border.

Kosiniak-Kamysz called the effort the “largest operation to strengthen the eastern border of Poland, the eastern flank of NATO since 1945,” describing it as a key part of the government’s election pledge to defend Polish borders. “We will cooperate with our partners and allies within NATO and the European Union, especially with the Baltic countries … drawing on various experiences and patterns. We will present this project at the European and NATO level as one of the most important ones that will change the face of security in the region.”

Along the border a series of base stations, or masts, will be established, which will be equipped with warning and tracking (IMINT/SIGINT/acoustic) systems. Those will serve as access points for encrypted secured communications, as well as electronic warfare and anti-drone effectors. Poland will also establish operational centers for data analysis, supported by AI, which the officials said would be integrated with ISR systems that can connect to weapon systems in an automated fashion.

A proposed image for part of East Shield, presented by the Polish general staff. (General Staff of Polish Armed Forces)

One key early step in the program happened last week, when Poland signed an agreement for four reconnaissance tethered aerostats, under a program codenamed “Barbara” for approximately $960 million. (This does not seem to be a new procurement: The US State Department in February approved Poland to buy four aerostats.)

The first of these systems will be delivered by the end of 2026 and fully operational in Q1 2027. The remaining three aerostats will be delivered by the end of Q3 2027, with everything up and running by end of 2027. These aerostats, which will hang roughly four kilometers high, will be used to detect airborne objects, like missiles and airplanes, over 300 km range. The aerostats will have to be integrated with existing radar systems and air defense networks planned for Poland.

Of course, there will be a classical fortification efforts as well. Anti-tank ditches and exploding camouflets will be built along the border, along with new wells dug in the area in order to hinder physical movement of a large invading force. Physical barriers will be prepared. New bunkers, with stored munitions, will be constructed. And to ensure Poland’s own forces can move where needed, new road crossings — strengthening river banks and roads — will be bult and existing bridges will be assessed and, if needed, reinforced in order to carry heavier loads.

“We have to secure approximately 700 km of the border, including 400 km with Belarus. We want this project to be implemented immediately. It will start this year [and] we want this program to end in 2028,” said Tomczyk. (The Belarus-Poland border is roughly 418 km and the border with Russia’s Kaliningrad region 210 km, so the “700 km” claim may involve other parts of the border, or simply be a rounded figure.)

Within the next few weeks, a draft act on investments of particular importance for state security will be submitted to the Sejm (lower house of Poland’s parliament). According to plan, infrastructure works will start next year.

In addition to the Ministry of National Defense, the Ministry of Interior and Administration, the Ministry of State Assets and the Ministry of Infrastructure, as well as other entities and local government communities, are involved in the work of the team for coordinating tasks under the program. All projects will be managed from the level of the General Staff of the Polish Army.