Polish Territorial Defence Forces – the overview
Dr. Aleksander Olech
Currently in Poland, the Territorial Defence Forces are one of the branches of armed forces, which in principle complements all the others (i.e. land, air, naval, special forces, as well as the newly created cyber defence). The TDF are structurally prepared in the event of crisis situations, removing their consequences and restoring resources and critical infrastructure. TDF was established in 2017, however, the soldiers have conducted many operations. This formation consisting mainly of the soldiers of – volunteers. The Territorial Defence Forces are crucial to the NATO alliance.
Creation of the TDF
The use of volunteer troops in countries other than Poland, but also belonging to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, should also be considered. In the future, these experiences may be the basis for the creation of supranational NATO armed forces, which may also include Territorial Defence formations. The multitude of specialisation of soldiers, rapid mobilisation time, as well as extremely strong capability to respond to crisis, asymmetric and hybrid threats result in a high / not fully exploited potential to perform tasks for the national security of individual states and international alliances. In the process of conducted research it was determined that analogous to the Polish Territorial Defence Forces in NATO countries - as voluntary forces – they operate i.a. in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Norway, Great Britain and the USA. The development of The Territorial Defense Forces is in line with the assumptions of the NATO 2030 Strategic Concept.
Since its establishment in 2017, the fifth branch of the Polish Armed Forces (the others being the Land Forces, the Navy, the Air Force, the Special Forces) has developed very dynamically, according to the established plan. Polish territory was divided into areas and assigned IV stages of formation of individual Territorial Defence Brigades.
Currently, there are more than 32 000 soldiers serving in the TDF, including more than 28 100 volunteers and more than 3 900 military professionals. 32% of soldiers of the Territorial Defence have higher education and almost half of them (46%) have secondary education. Most soldiers of the Territorial Defence (over 48%) hold general education. Almost 32% of them have technical education and 15% hold degrees in arts. Medics make up 2%, lawyers 1.2% and those with an agricultural background 1.8%. The formation is very popular among women, who account for nearly 20%. More than 60% of the TMS soldiers have permanent employment (employment contract), and nearly 17% are employed on the basis of a contract for specific work or contract of mandate. As many as 15% of soldiers are students of different fields of study. The TDF ranks are also filled by university students / graduates who have completed military training under the Academic Legion programme, joining the TMS with the rank of non-commissioned officers.
Citizens of Poland who have reached the age of majority may be called up for the Territorial Military Service if they: are between 18 and 55 years of age for privates and up to 63 years of age for non-commissioned officers and officers; have not been convicted of an intentional offence; are not assigned to alternative service; are not given the disaster response assignment; are not recalled from the obligation to perform active military service in the event of an announcement of mobilisation and in wartime, or in the case of assigning an organisational-mobilisation task in the form of a collective list of names in a unit planned for militarisation.
Activity and actions
The standards of cooperation developed during previous meetings, joint exercises and training with the Border Guard resulted in the signing of an agreement between the TDFC and the Border Guard on 27 September 2018, and could be verified as part of the “Strong Support” [Polish: Silne Wsparcie] operation. This operation began in November 2021 and aimed to support the Border Guard on the Poland-Belarus border.
All day long patrols of the soldiers of the TDF support the Border Guard officers in counteracting illegal immigration. The soldiers of the Territorial Defence, using their knowledge of the terrain and optoelectronic equipment, detect illegal immigrants and notify the Border Guard of their location. Similar operations are conducted on water, from the air and on horseback. Every day, where the border runs along the Bug River, patrols are carried out using flat-bottomed patrol boats. Additionally, sections of horse patrols protect this area.
Excellent mobility in difficult terrain, speed of movement, ability to pack and transport additional equipment, wide range of operation, depth of observation and rapid response to threats – these are the characteristics that determined the decision to direct the TDF horse patrols to support the Border Guard in securing the border with Belarus. Every day, patrolling the Bug River border line, the soldiers of the TDF travel over 1 000 kilometres.
The soldiers of the Territorial Defence support not only the Border Guard, but also the inhabitants of the border regions. Mobile Support Assessment Teams move around the area on a daily basis. Their purpose is to maintain contact with the local community and local authorities, as well as to collect and respond to the needs that change as the situation on the border develops. In addition, there is a telephone helpline operating around the clock for those who live in the border regions.
The current deployment of the TDF soldiers (across the country) makes it possible to respond effectively in the event of a crisis. The available units are capable of rapid mobilisation and immediate action. Moreover, brigades from neighbouring voivodeships may also be involved in specific and larger events. In such a view, territorial troops become an important complement to other types of armed forces and services acting for the security of the state. In the near future, the TDF will continue to develop. It is also a huge advantage for the NATO Alliance.
- S. Gromadzki, K. Kreis-Tomczak, A. Olech, Territorial Defence Forces in Poland, Conducting counter crisis management activities and hybrid and asymmetric warfare – the article is still in progress.
- Informator Wojsk Obrony Terytorialnej [Territorial Defence Forces Handbook] (2018). Warsaw: Ministry of Defence.
- Kryzys na granicy. Około tysiąc żołnierzy WOT wezwanych do jednostek w trybie alarmowym (2021) TVN24, 8 November. Available at: https://tvn24.pl/polska/granica-z-bialorusia-wojska-obrony-terytorialnej-podnosimy-gotowosc-naszych-sil-do-wsparcia-strazy-granicznej-5482172 (Accessed: 28 August 2022).
- Muczyński, R. (2021) WOT: Międzynarodowe spotkanie podoficerów w Białymstoku, Magazyn Militarny MILMAG. 6 September. Available at: https://milmag.pl/wot-miedzynarodowe-spotkanie-podoficerow-w-bialymstoku/.
- National Security Bureau (2020) Strategia Bezpieczeństwa Narodowego Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej. Warsaw: National Security Bureau.
- Pietrzak, M. (2021) W święta 2,5 tys. żołnierzy WOT na służbie, Wojska Obrony Terytorialnej, 25 December. Available at: https://media.terytorialsi.wp.mil.pl/informacje/716718/w-swieta-2-5-tys-zolnierzy-wot-na-sluzbie (Accessed: 31 August 2022).
- Struktura batalionu lekkiej piechoty (Obrony Terytorialnej) (b.d.). Available at: http://www.test.obronanarodowa.pl/download/struktura-batalionu-lekkiej-piechoty/struktura-batalionu-lekkiej-piechoty.pdf.
- Wymagania dla kandydatów do Wojsk Obrony Terytorialnej [Requirements for candidates for the Territorial Defence Forces] (no date). Avialable at: https://www.gov.pl/web/obrona-narodowa/wymagania (Accessed: 31 August 2022).
- Wyposażenie i uzbrojenie (b.d.). Available at: https://www.gov.pl/web/obrona-narodowa/wyposazenie-i-uzbrojenie.
- Żak J. (2017) ‘Wojska obrony terytorialnej w systemie obronnym Litwy’, Ante Portas – Studia nad Bezpieczeństwem, 1(8), pp. 189-200.
- Zostań podoficerem lub oficerem WOT (b.d.). Available at: https://terytorialsi.wp.mil.pl/kursy.