Poland Retains Su-22s, Wants New Attack Helicopters

 - August 6, 2014, 12:43 PM
Poland will retain a squadron of Su-22M strike aircraft for another 10 years. This is one of a pair that visited the Royal International Air Tattoo in the UK last month. (Photo: Chris Pocock)

Faced with a worsening security situation in neighboring Ukraine, Poland has issued a requirement for new attack helicopters that could be worth more than $1.3 billion. Meanwhile, however, the country’s choice of 72 new multirole helicopters worth nearly $2.7 billion remains undecided. Budget shortfalls continue to frustrate the armed forces’ desire for new equipment. Earlier this year, Poland decided to retain one squadron of aging Su-22 strike aircraft for up to 10 more years, since it cannot afford a replacement.

Poland currently operates 28 Mil Mi-24 attack helicopters, the remnants of 52 acquired since 1978. The new proposal is to buy about 32 replacements in two stages, with an initial 20 to be followed by 12 more beginning in 2022. Candidates include the AgustaWestland AW129 or its Turkish sibling, the TAI T-129; the Airbus Helicopters EC665 Tiger; and the Boeing AH-64E Apache. Offers are scheduled to be considered next year.

Meanwhile, the multirole helicopter contract award has been postponed until next year, two years later than originally envisioned. The AgustaWestland AW149, Airbus Helicopters EC725 Caracal and Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk are in contention, each OEM having partnered with a local company for production and support (PZL-Swidnik, Heli-Invest and Mielec, respectively). The army is slated to receive 48 helicopters for troop transport, with the air force receiving 10 for SAR, and the navy receiving another six for SAR plus six for the ASW role. They will replace about 16 Mi-8s, 10 Mi-14s and 20 Mi-17s that remain in service from much larger numbers acquired previously.

The decision to retain 12 single-seat and six two-seat Su-22Ms for another 10 years was taken last February and was driven by the choice of the Aermacchi M346 as the air force’s new jet trainer. Had the rival more powerful KAI T-50 Golden Eagle been selected, some would have been allocated as the Su-22 replacement. The air force received 110 Su-22s beginning in 1984; 32 remain in service. They have received only minor avionics upgrades.

The Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 52 is Poland’s frontline fighter, with 48 delivered between 2006 and 2008. In a presentation to The Fighter Conference in London in 2012, organized by Defence IQ, air force Col. Tadeusz Pieciukiewicz said that Poland hoped to share the development cost of future upgrades, such as an AESA radar, with the U.S. Air Force. However, the U.S. F-16 upgrade program faces an uncertain future. The air force also operates two squadrons of MiG-29s.