WARSAW—In a sprawling factory complex surrounded by derelict buildings, hundreds of technicians are working around the clock on one of the biggest challenges of Ukraine’s war: repairing artillery and heavy armor and returning it to the front line.
Mechanics buzz around the football-field-sized workshop housing three AHS Krab guns, the air thick with the smell of metal dust and automotive grease. Two of the Krabs, which look like tanks but are self-propelled 155mm howitzer guns, are missing parts of their caterpillar tracks and are riddled with bullet holes and contorted metal.
Another Krab stands sparkling clean, ready to be ferried back into Ukraine along a route that has seen the biggest transfer of arms in Europe since World War II. Each weapon can take up to two months to repair by technicians who must pass layers of security checks before they are allowed onto the floor of the factory at a location The Wall Street Journal agreed not to disclose.
In addition to the repair work in Poland, the mechanics are in constant contact with technicians in Ukraine—many of whom were civilians before the war—teaching them over encrypted apps how to repair everything from tanks to missiles.
The scale of the previously unreported Polish armaments operation highlights the complexity of a maintenance challenge that is about to grow far larger. On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced plans to send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, joining European allies who will send as many as 100 German-made Leopard 2 tanks.
Polish officials say they expect the Abramses will be repaired in Poland in the western city of Poznan, making the former Soviet satellite state the leading edge of a maintenance operation that stretches to the Czech Republic, Romania and Bulgaria. Poland will also likely play a critical role in repairing and maintaining the Leopards, due to its arms industry’s deep experience with the tank. “It is safe to assume that Poland is a leader when it comes to servicing the equipment being used by the Ukrainians in the battlefield,” said Tomasz Smura, an expert on military technologies from Casimir Pulaski Foundation, an independent think tank in Warsaw.
Comment: According to this article there are similar maintenance operations in the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Romania. A few months ago I read about a half dozen or so Krabs being refurbished in Lithuania. These operations supplement similar operations in Ukraine and with the impending arrival of large numbers of Western tanks and IFVs, they will be critical to keeping the Ukrainian Army in fighting trim. The US maintenance depot in Poznan for the Abrams will probably also service the Bradleys now on their way from the port of Charleston.
Russia knows how critical these maintenance facilities are to the Ukrainian war effort. I doubt they’ll try to strike them directly, but sabotage will surely be tried. There has already been one incident at a Bulgarian facility. The Poles are maintaining heavy security at their facilities, hiring only Polish citizens and subjecting them to background checks. They kept the location of this facility from the WSJ reporter. The arsenal of democracy extends far beyond the US.