WARSAW — Poland plans to bolster armament efforts of neighboring countries through government, bank and export loans as a response to Russia's increased military presence in Ukraine.

Warsaw unveiled the plan shortly after announcing that it aims to award multibillion-zloty contracts to Airbus and Raytheon for helicopters and Patriot missiles, respectively.

"Poland aims to play the role of a regional leader, and rally other [Eastern European allies] behind the objective of intensifying regional cooperation in the field of defense and security," said professor Marek Jablonowski, a political scientist from the University of Warsaw.

The plan involves the Visegrad Group of countries — Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary — along with the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, in addition to Romania and Bulgaria, Col. Jacek Sonta, spokesperson for the Polish Defense Ministry, told local business daily Puls Biznesu.

Meanwhile, another objective for the fund would be to increase the foothold of Polish defense firms in other Eastern European markets.

"To date, we have been looking for potential export deals in distant countries, while we have neglected neighboring markets. Financial support by the government will make it easier for Polish companies [to export weapons], but they surely shouldn't ignore local competitors," said Slawomir Kulakowski, the head of the Polish Chamber of National Defense Manufacturers (PIPROK).

While it is unclear which types of weapons and military equipment Polish defense firms could procure for interested governments, some of the most recent examples of such deals could indicate the areas of interest.

In September, Lithuania's Defense Ministry signed a deal with Polish arms maker Mesko to acquire GROM short-range portable air defense systems. The contract was signed at the MSPO defense industry show in Kielce.

"Short-range air defense systems are one of the priorities of the Lithuanian armament program. GROM ... will strengthen the capacity of the Lithuanian armed forces and ensure protection against combat aircraft," Lithuanian Brig. Gen. Gintautas Zenkevicius said.

Poland Selects Helos, Missiles

This month, the Polish MoD announced it had chosen Raytheon's Patriot over the Aster 30 interceptor, which is manufactured by the consortium of MBDA and Thales.

"The Council of Ministers has accepted the recommendation of Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak to award the order for the delivery of Patriot systems to the US government, and authorized him to negotiate and sign an intergovernmental agreement on behalf of the Republic of Poland," the MoD said in a statement April 21. "Under the plan, eight batteries ... are to be acquired by 2025. To ensure a temporary capability in the field of anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense, the plan is to procure two batteries over a period of three years following the signing of the deal."

On the same day, Warsaw said it selected the Caracal EC-725 to replace the Polish military's Soviet-designed Mil Mi-8, Mi-14 and Mi-17 helicopters. The aircraft, made by Airbus Helicopters, edged out bids by Sikorsky, with its S70i Black Hawk, and AgustaWestland, which offered the AW-149.

The bids by PZL Swidnik, a subsidiary of AgustaWestland, and PZL Mielec, Sikorsky's local manufacturing offshoot, "were not in compliance with the formal and technical requirements related to, among others, the delivery schedule, the helicopters' weapons, and their maintenance and servicing capability at WZL-1 plant in Łódź," according to the ministry.

Local newspaper Rzeczpospolita reported that the planned helo deal is estimated to be worth up to 10 billion zloty (US $2.8 billion), while the acquisition of short-, mid- and long-range missiles under the air defense program could be worth up to 26.5 billion zloty.

In addition, the Defense Ministry said it has accelerated its second helo tender, developed under the Kruk program.

By 2022, the Polish Air Force is to acquire some 30 helicopters to replace its Mil Mi-24 helos. The ministry said it has launched a market research procedure, and six market players have expressed interest to take part in the tender. These include Airbus Helicopters, Turkish Aerospace Industries, Boeing, Bell Helicopter and two local companies, Instytut Metali Niezelaznych and BIT.