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Poland Seeks To Boost Drone Fleet

Dec. 11, 2013 - 03:41PM   |  
By PIERRE TRAN   |   Comments
Warsaw's Drone Plans: Poland's Flytronic makes the FlyEye mini-UAV, which the Polish Army has purchased
Warsaw's Drone Plans: Poland's Flytronic makes the FlyEye mini-UAV, which the Polish Army has purchased (Flytronic)
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PARIS — As early as next year, Warsaw could select a supplier for a tactical Army drone, part of Poland’s push to boost domestic industry and military capability in unmanned aerial vehicles, a Polish Army officer said.

“The earliest [is] 2014,” Army Col. Mariusz Jachol told a press briefing held by a consortium of Polish companies and research institutes led by WB Electronics, and Army officers at the embassy here on Dec. 5.

The tactical UAV, with a requested range of 200 kilometers, would be used at the brigade and division level, Jachol said. The budget is “enough,” he said, declining to disclose the procurement figure.

“Depending on what the budget will be,” the planned acquisition would total eight to 12 sets consisting of four aircraft in a set, he said.

The Polish companies and officers were here to meet French executives, including those at Dassault, EADS, Safran’s Sagem and Thales, and military officers, in a plan to select a European partner on the UAV drive.

The seminar’s aim was “a reconnaissance by both sides,” said Adam Bartosiewicz, vice president and co-founder of WB Electronics.

The WB-led consortium hopes to win Poland’s tender to develop and build its own UAVs ranging from micro, tactical to medium-range, long-endurance (MALE) drones, with the latter carrying arms.

This year, France and Poland published their respective defense white papers, which set out policy aims, said Gen. Maurice de Langlois, research director for European Union-Atlantic security at the Institute for Military and Strategic Affairs here.

While both countries set out similar positions in collective defense under NATO and a European common defense and security policy, Warsaw pushed the envelope on the industrial front.

“Poland went further than French policy” on the integration of industry, de Langlois said. Paris talks of cooperation, but not integration.

Warsaw sees drones as a “major requirement,” and wants to move ahead on development and production, including platforms and ground stations, he said.

Poland is looking to acquire four systems comprising MALE, tactical, mini and micro UAVs, the Embassy said in a note.

The main task is Polish territorial protection, so line of sight is the priority. But the requirement for the MALE UAV includes the possibility of installing satellite communications gear, the Polish officials said.

Polish industry has developed autopilot, communication links, optronics and other payloads for UAVs bought from Israel and the US. Composite material is another area of domestic development.

The aim now is to build Polish UAVs with European industrial cooperation.

“We’re looking to establish cooperation with European industry,” Bartosiewicz said. Working with France, Germany, Spain or another European country would help plug Poland’s capability gap, he said.

Technology transfer will be one of the terms for European cooperation, he said.

By building its own UAVs, Poland falls in line with NATO’s selection of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities as a priority for the alliance, Jachol said.

A second priority for Polish forces is space imagery, which offers the potential for cooperation with France, he said.

Meanwhile, Israel failed to win a tender for mini-UAVs because of a weakness in technical support, Bartosiewicz said.

“Delivery is first step,” he said, adding that logistical and technical support is important. “Our previous experience with one of the Israeli companies shows us their very weak points in technical support.”

A need for fast service led to a win by Polish firm Flytronic, one of the consortium members, which has delivered 12 sets of its FlyEye mini-UAV to the Polish Army.

Israeli UAVs flown by the Polish forces include the Aerostar and Orbiter mini-UAVs from Aeronautics Defense Systems.

Poland also flies the ScanEagle, built by by Insitu, a subsidiary of Boeing.

The Defense Ministry has set a budget of 2 billion to 3 billion zloty (US $650 million to $975 million) to cover its UAV program, the Embassy said.

Warsaw also is part of the Weimar Triangle, a political cooperation forum formed by France, Germany and Poland in 1991. That also is seen as a way to cooperate on a European drone.

In equipment, Warsaw is looking to acquire aerial refueling aircraft and 70 Army helicopters.

On the spending front, Poland has a 2001 constitutional law committing 1.95 percent of gross domestic budget to defense. That pledge is under political discussion, but the constitution sets the target.

Poland last month said it has bought 119 Leopard tanks for €180 million (US $244 million) from Germany, for delivery in 2014 and 2015. Those vehicles are in addition to the 128 Leopards to be overhauled.

WB Electronics is working on that upgrade and on the local production under license of 800 AMV armored vehicles from Patria of Finland.

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