Yesterday (i.e. 2nd July 2015), ORP “Ślązak” ship launching and christening ceremony took place. The vessel is classified as a patrol ship. The new ship is based on a 621 multi-purpose Gawron-class corvette. Despite the obvious design changes, “Ślązak” still bears some characteristic features of that class of units, however, some of the corvette-typical armament is missing.
ORP “Ślązak” patrol vessel is actually a Gawron-class corvette, ordered back in 2001. The agreement, the aim of which was to create seven vessels of this type assumed that the first ship would be launched in June 2005. Between 2001 and 2006 a budget of PLN 497 million was allocated to that programme. The keel laying ceremony was organized back in 2001, in the presence of Leszek Miler, who was the Polish Prime Minister at the time, along with Marek Siwiec and Jerzy Szmajdzinski - former one was the Chief of the National Security Bureau, while the latter was taking the position of the Minister of Defence.
Gawron did not gain the status of a governmental programme. It turned out that the construction costs were estimated in a wrong way. According to the initial assumption, the cost was to reach an amount of ca. PLN 300 million per vessel. Polish Navy’s budget was too small to continue the process of building the new ships independently.
Thus, it was in December 2002 when the order was limited down to the first ship on which the construction works were already started. This created a very difficult situation for the Polish Navy’s Shipyard. The Shipyard had to incur costs related to the infrastructural investments, assuming – with a full right to do so – that the assets would be distributed in the future in relation to the six remaining vessels. The initial estimates showed that the project would be profitable for the Polish Navy’s Shipyard, once the third corvette is handed off for use.
Ultimately, the Polish Ministry of Defence made a decision to suspend the programme, allocating solely funds that made it possible to carry out maintenance works on the corvette, the aim of which was to preserve the constructed vessel. This stagnation, lack of decisiveness regarding the works, “throwing” all of the costs related to the design works into the construction process regarding the single vessel (almost PLN 200 million), made the Gawron-class corvette, currently known as ORP “Ślązak”, several times more expensive than it was initially assumed, with its price tag close to a contemporary, modern frigate-class ship.
Back in 2009 it seemed that a breakthrough came, since test launch was carried out at the shipyard – including the ship stability tests. At the same time Bogdan Klich, Minister of Defence at the time, decided that the Gawron programme should be suspended. Back in 2009 budgetary assets in an amount of PLN 1.7 billion were not used by the Ministry of Defence. Currently, cost of the ORP “Ślązak” vessel is estimated to exceed an amount of PLN 1 billion.
Back in February 2012, PM Donald Tusk stated that the Gawron programme is closed, and that the government is looking for a buyer who would like to purchase the vessel in its status present at the time. No buyer was found, ultimately a decision was made to finish the construction works, however with a different ship class which was to be the ultimate profile of the new vessel – a patrol ship. The design was modified, it is currently referred to as 621M.
In reality the difference is mainly visible in the fact that no ASW system, anti-ship missiles and anti-aircraft missiles belong to the ship’s equipment (besides the Grom MANPADS). As it turned out, the Polish Navy did everything in order to create a temporarily disarmed corvette, instead of a patrol ship.
The vessel has a top speed of 30 knots, cruising speed of 18 knots and economical speed of 14 knots. “Ślązak” is to have a range of 2000 nautical miles at the speed of 18 knots and 4500 nautical miles at the speed of 14 knots. The ship is capable of carrying out autonomous operations period of “Ślązak” for 30 days. “Ślązak” is boarded by a crew of more than 70 persons.
After the launch today we know for sure that Ślązak will never be a typical patrol-class ship, however, the vessel still has a chance to become a corvette. It would be enough to add anti-ship missiles and a vertical launch system for surface-to-air missiles, in order to get a quite well armed missile corvette.
The ship features an open-architecture Thales command system, as well as expansive observation and electronic warfare suites. Additionally OTO MELARA 76 mm cannon, along with two MARLIN-WS 30 mm cannons, along with 4 12.7 mm heavy machine guns have also been fitted onboard.
Of course, the vessel will have no problem with execution of patrolling tasks. However, “Ślązak” has a greater potential. This potential has been, unfortunately, unnoticed by the politicians so far. Hopefully, this status is yet to be changed now.