WARSAW — The Czech Defense Ministry has decided to boost its helicopter program and acquire "several dozen" helos instead of 12 as originally planned, according to Czech Deputy Defense Minister Daniel Kostoval.

"The acquisition of 12 helicopters will just mark the beginning. It will be the first phase of the program," Kostoval told local business daily E15 this week.

This will allow the country to potentially replace all of its Soviet-designed Mil Mi-8s, Mi-17s and Mi-24s helos with copters made by a NATO member state.

In late June, the ministry invited offers from manufacturers based in the US, France and Italy. Potential bidders include US companies Bell and Sikorsky, as well as European groups Airbus Defence and Space and AgustaWestland.

The bidders are expected to submit their initial offers in the first half of September 2015, the Defense Ministry said. The first helicopters are to be delivered to the Czech military in 2017 and 2018.

Local analysts estimate the ministry could pay between 250 million krona (US $10 million) and 550 million krona per aircraft.

The helicopter procurement is part of a larger military modernization effort by the Czech Defense Ministry, which aims to replace Soviet-built weapons and equipment, and increase the military's compatibility with the military gear used by other NATO member states. Other acquisition plans include the purchase of new mobile 3-D radars to replace Soviet-era equipment.

While Soviet-designed aircraft will be replaced with new copters, the Czech government has decided to modernize the military's PZL W-3 Sokol helicopters made by PZL-Swidnik, a Poland-based subsidiary of AgustaWestland.

Email: jadamowski@defensenews.com

Jaroslaw Adamowski is the Poland correspondent for Defense News.

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