The Territorial Defense Force – Poland’s militia for anti-hybrid warfare

The beginning of 2017 marks the official implementation of Poland’s so called „Territorial Defense Force“ (TDF) – some kind of militia which the special purpose to enhance Poland’s defense against the scenario of a „hybrid invasion“ from Russia. The new militia should also help to handle catastrophes like floodings or support the police during anti-terror-measures. Until 2019 the TDF should consits of 53.000 militiamen. That’s more than half the strength of Poland’s armed forces which have slightly more than 100.000 personel. The new militia would be larger than Polands army which has 48.732 professional soldiers in its ranks. 


Polands defense minister Antoni Macierewicz inspecting a TDF unit during the opening of an information center for the militia at Bialystok – Photo: Robert Siemaszko / MoD Poland

The plan is to organize the TDF in 17 brigades. Every voivodeship (some kind of province) gets its own brigade. Those with the capital Warsaw two.The mass of TDF troops are volunteers, serving on the basis of six-year-treaties – Polish women and men who are willing to spend their free time beside work in the new national guard. The monthly allowance is 120 Euros for two days call-on-duty service every four weeks and the willingness to participate in snap exercises. Only the TDF leadership posts, about ten percent of the troop strength, are provided for professional soldiers.

The „magnificient twelve“

The military value of the TDF should come from its grassroots organization into twelve men troops of light infantry.The „Swiss tool“ concept of this units: They collect six military  capabilities (medic, pioneer, shooter, sniper, scout, radio man). Beside the commandant and its deputy as well as scout and sniper, every capability is double assigneed with a experienced militia soldier and a novice, so the planning. That should make the units sustainable and lighten the training with the idea of rookies learning from veterans.

Those „magnificient twelve“, as TDF supreme commander brigadier-general Wiesław Kukuła labeled the concept, have three tasks in the case Poland comes under attack. First and foremost the TDF units are charged with the protection of critical infrastructure like water reservoirs, TV-stations or power plants. Their aim is it to hamper attempts of sabotage and desinformation from Russian comandos as part of a so called „hybrid invasion“. Hindering the enemy to become the „architect“ of the battlefield, is the TDF part in the over-all strategy, so TDF-commander Kukuła in an interview with DEFENCE24.PL. The second task of the TDF platoons is to support the professional army in its operations against the enemy. In the worst case of a defeat of Polands regular armed forces, the TDF is designated for a guerilla role. The net of TDF units should obstruct the establishment of administration structures from the enemy side and also „ensuring the continuity of the Polish state“, according to general Kukuła. 


The timeline for the buildup plan of the TDF in Polands 16 provinces – Photo: TDF Infographic / MoD Poland

The TDF – really a useful military concept?

The government is selling the TDF to the Polish society as a clever way to enhance the security of the country. Because it consists mainly of volunteers it’s allegedly a cheap military force. The TDF focus on anti-hybrid warfare served the fear of a lot of Poles that Russia could start some kind of „hybrid invasion“ on their country. This kind of advertisement caughts in large parts of the society. The paramilitary tradition in Poland which was often occupied during it’s history is very vivid since Russia’s capture of the Crimea 2014 and it’s undeclared war in Eastern Ukraine. Then thousands of Poles started to engage themselves in paramilitary groups to steal for battle. This enthusiasm should now fill the ranks of the TDF. 

But there is also criticism. It’s questionable how realistic the threat scenario of a hybrid attack from Russia really is. The main success factor of hybrid warfare is it to have loyalists or potential supporters in the targeted country. But unlike Ukraine or the Baltic countries there are no Russian minorities or Russian affine groups in Poland. According to Jacek Bartosiak, military expert at the think tank Potomac Foundation in Warsaw, a massive conventional attack on East Poland would make more sense for Russia. The terrain there is ideal for tank warfare. A flat plain, only some clear forests and few rivers which can canalize the movement of invading troops. To stop the Russians there before they could reach Warsaw heavy armored troops would be necessary not a light infantry like the TDF.

Defense expert Jacek Bartosiak is also skeptical concerning the low costs of the TDF. „The scheduled sophisticated weapon-mix for the TDF platoons will not be cheap“. Poland’s ministry of defense plan for the TDF weaponry is ambitious. All weapon types and equipment should be new and „made in Poland“. Until now it’s not clear what the whole weapon-mix will be. The basic kit for a twelve men platoon possibly consits of Beryl 96C assault rifles, a UKM-2000P (modernized) machine gun, a sniper rifle, two 7,62 mm carbines and one grenade launcher 40 mm. On the brigade level a large number of scouting drones, MANPADS and portable anti-tank-weapons should be avaiable. Recently the MoD started negotiations with Łucznik-Radom firearms factory about the aquisition of several thousand Beryl assault rifles for the Territorial Defense Force

Part of the „conservative revolution“ in Poland

The TDF is a pet project of Poland’s defense minister Antoni Macierewicz and the national-conservativ government. The buildup of the new militia is not only for military reasons, it’s also part of the governments „conservative revolution“ which aims to transform Poland from a liberal democracy into a more statist-authoritarian political system. MoDs spokeman Bartłomiej Misiewicz towards the author: „Finally, the important task given to TDF is aiming at strengthening patriotic values that are crucial for individual’s identity and unity with region, estate and country“. Especially the next generation of army officers should preferentially start their career in the TDF before entering service in the professional armed forces. 


Young army officers of the TDF swear their oath at the Higher School of Land Forces Wroclaw – Photo: Bogusław Politowski / MoD Poland

Those aren’t so happy with their new brother in arms. Without raising the defense budget, the MoD will invest more than 800 million Euros in the TDF buildup until 2019. The MoD says that the TDF investments are structured in a way that the armed forces own armament plans won’t suffer but no one believes that. Moreover the TDF gets a powerful standing against the regular armed forces. Beside army, navy, air force and the special forces the militia is positioned as the fifth military branch. Most important: The armed forces leadership won’t have control over the Territorial Defense Force. Instead of being placed under the umbrella of the general command like all the other military branches, the TDF has its separate command.

The stalling resistance from the old guard of officers against the important role of the TDF has been broken from defense minister Antoni Macierewicz during the last months. Nearly all opponents on flagship positions are now in early retirement. Mirosław Różański, general commander of Poland’s armed forces, „asked for resignation“ at the end of last year. Normally his term would have ended in 2018. The chief of general staff Mieczysław Gocuł was replaced lately.