WARSAW, Poland — The Polish Ministry of Defense is considering to relaunch last year's helicopter competition, won by Airbus Helicopters, in line with the ministry's policy of funneling the largest possible share of military procurements to companies that operate production facilities in Poland, and maximizing the technological and economic benefits for the country's state-dominated defense industry.
Speaking Sept. 13 at the Polish parliament's National Defense Committee on the ministry's plans to acquire a new mid-range air defense system, Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz said that, under the government's strategy, there are three objectives that are to underpin Poland's major military acquisitions in the coming years.
"First of all, Poland must have, as soon as possible, the defensive means to guarantee the security of its largest agglomerations and industrial centers," Macierewicz said. "Secondly, acquiring such means must be related to technological, economic and military modernization benefits."
In April 2015, Poland's previous government decided it will hand a deal for 70 Caracal transport copters to Airbus under a contract estimated to be worth about 13 billion zloty (US $3.5 billion). However, following the November parliamentary election which produced a new government by the conservative Law and Justice party, newly-appointed Macierewicz announced his ministry aimed to decrease the Caracal order. This would allow Poland to use a portion of the funds to purchase Black Hawk and AW149 helos from Lockheed Martin and Leonardo, respectively. Lockheed Martin's local offshoot PZL Mielec produces the Black Hawk, while Leonardo's PZL Swidnik subsidiary makes the AW149. The transport helos are to replace the Polish military's Soviet-designed Mi-8, Mi-14 and Mi-17 copters.
Combat Helo Procurement Underway
Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry is carrying out a second copter procurement, dubbed the Kruk (Raven) program, under which it aims to purchase up to 30 combat helos. Four companies submitted their offers earlier this year, according to the pro-government daily Fakt. Bell Helicopters offered its AH1Z Viper, Airbus pitched the Tiger, Boeing offered its AH-64 Apache, while Turkey's TAI pitched the T129 Atak, a variant of Leonardo's A129 Mangusta platform. The ministry is currently analyzing the offers.
Last July, Polish Deputy Defense Minister Bartosz Kownacki told the National Defense Committee that the ministry is planning to spend at least $21.5 billion on acquisitions of new weapons and military gear, including $3.3 billion to purchase combat helicopters for the country's Air Force. The helos are designed to replace the Soviet-built Mil Mi-24.
Defense Ministry officials emphasize that building up the nation's defense manufacturing capacity is a key priority, and foreign companies stand the largest chance of securing military procurements when teaming up with local industry players. Through such partnerships, the government aims to ensure that the predominantly state-owned defense sector gains access to new technologies, and local jobs are maintained.
Cooperation With Local Defense Industry
Mike Gleason, an international military business manager at Bell Helicopters, told Defense News that the company has been establishing partnerships with local companies to develop its presence in the Polish market.
"Industrial participation is hugely important for Poland," Gleason said. "Bell has been engaging with the Polish industry for the better part of two years now. We have multiple MoUs with PGZ."
As part of its partnership with Poland's state-run defense giant PGZ, which employs about 10,000, Bell offered to perform final assembly work as well as all maintenance repair and overhaul work on the combat copters at the group's military aircraft plant WZL 1 in Lodz, in Poland's central part. The facility specializes in repair and upgrade work of Mil helos.
Other contenders have also been strengthening ties with local players. Last February, Airbus opened its design office in Poland. The company says that, as part of the Caracal procurement, it plans to create "at least a total of 1,250 new direct jobs and 2,000 new indirect jobs" here, mostly in the cities of Lodz, Deblin, and Radom, where PGZ has its headquarters.
Meanwhile, an analyst at a Polish government-run think tank in Warsaw said that while the ministry's policy of encouraging cooperation between foreign and domestic industry players has already resulted with a boost in such partnerships, it is unclear what will be the tangible results of this trend.
"Poland's defense sector has been struggling to secure foreign military contracts, and, with a few exceptions, it has been unable to find serious foreign partners," the analyst said. "The ministry … hopes that its policies will bring new technologies to Poland, but if producers are only to operate assembly plants and outsource repair works to local facilities, then [such a strategy] will probably not work in the long-term."
On a related note, in November, Macierewicz is scheduled to present the priorities of Poland's updated Technical Modernization Plan for the Polish Armed Forces to the National Defense Committee, providing more in-depth information on the ministry's procurement plans in the forthcoming years.