Poland on Thursday said it would speed up the process for choosing a national antimissile system amid worries about Russia's actions in Ukraine.
The decision to drastically shorten the time table for selecting a contractor bid reflects Polish government concerns that Russia could follow its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea with actions against other former Soviet satellite states, Reuters reported.
"The issues related with Poland's air defense will be accelerated," Defense Ministry spokesman Jacek Sonta said. "Poland plans to choose the best offer for its missile defense in the next few weeks."
The government wants to finalize a contract for the acquisition of the missile defense system in 2014, he said.
Warsaw had previously intended to cull the number of contractor proposals by early summer. There are competing bids from four different entities: the Israeli government; a Lockheed Martin-led consortium that produces the Medium Extended Air Defense System; the U.S. company Raytheon; and a consortium of France's Thales, the European firm MBDA and a Polish state defense group.
The contract is worth approximately $5 billion, according to the MEADS consortium. However, analysts estimate the entire cost of providing Poland an air- and missile-defense capability could be as much as $13.1 billion, when maintenance expenses are factored in.
Poland wants its missile shield operational before the end of 2022. The initial phase would consist of eight groupings of medium-range missile interceptors.
The Polish antimissile system is focused on defending against missile threats that could be launched close to Poland's borders, while the U.S. intermediate-range interceptors planned for fielding on Polish soil around 2018 are publicly stated to be aimed at defeating a possible attack from the Middle East. Poland's national system is expected to be integrated with NATO's evolving ballistic-missile defense network, which will also include the U.S. interceptors.
Washington on Tuesday praised Warsaw for its willingness to ramp up military spending -- something the United States and NATO have been urging all European alliance partners to do, according to a Polish-U.S. joint statement released by the State Department on Thursday.
"The United States commended the $45 billion dollar defense modernization investments Poland is making," reads the statement from an annual bilateral strategic dialogue group. "We confirmed that plans are on track to deploy a missile defense site in Poland in the 2018 timeframe as part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach to NATO missile defense."