Poland Rethinks Defense Procurement

 - March 16, 2017, 12:08 PM

The Polish Ministry of National Defence (MND) is scheduled to complete a new Strategic Defence Review (SDR) at the end of March, which is supposed to be far more thorough than previous such attempts. The SDR could lead to reform of the country’s defense procurement processes, after controversial attempts to acquire new air defense missiles, utility and attack helicopters. It could also lead to a restructure of the Polish defense industry, which cannot expect to continue receiving state subsidies indefinitely.

The procurement strategy that makes the most sense “would be for Polish industry to concentrate on those product lines where they have a competitive advantage and market those at home and abroad, and then purchase those weapon systems from foreign suppliers that make the most sense for Poland to acquire externally,” said one Polish defense industry specialist.

Two programs where this strategy could operate is the procurement of new helicopters and fighters. On February 20 the MND announced its intention to procure 16 new helicopters. Eight would be for the Polish special operations forces (SOF) and another eight for Poland’s maritime operations. The MND apparently does not intend to revive, for the time being, the much larger requirement to replace its fleet of Mi-8/17s, after scrapping plans last fall to buy 50 Airbus Helicopters H225M Caracels.

Officially the new helicopter tender will invite three competitors to bid: Leonardo, owner of the PZL Świdnik factory; Sikorsky Helicopters, which owns the PLZ Mielec plant where it builds the S-70i export version of the Sikorsky Black Hawk; and Airbus Helicopters. Two of companies will be selected to supply eight aircraft each. The winning companies will be expected not only to place workshare packages with the PZL plants, but they will also be required to provide transfer of technology to the Military Aircraft Works (Polish acronym WZL) in the city of Łódź.

However, deputy defense minister Dr. Tomasz Szatkowski and others have said more than once that the U.S. might not be the ideal partner for cooperative efforts like this. “Our problem with U.S. industry is that prices are good, but U.S. firms are so large that they are not interested in cooperation,” said Szatkowski at a presentation in December for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Warsaw.

This view may have a major impact on Poland’s next decision for a new fighter aircraft. The Polish air force has a requirement for 160 modern combat aircraft but currently has only 48 Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 52 aircraft, leaving a requirement for more than 100 new fighters.

 “The size of the requirement makes it a good possibility for some assembly or local manufacturing in Poland,” said a former MND official who spoke to AIN. “Since there are few possibilities for that kind of industrial participation on programs like the F-35, Poland’s military may decide to look at other options, like the [Saab JAS-39] Gripen.”