Poland Pushes Back Deadline For Helicopter Contest

 - December 2, 2014, 10:24 AM
Airbus Helicopters is proposing the EC725 for the Polish multirole helicopter requirement, and was the only contender of three that was prepared to meet the original deadline for submission of tenders. (Photo: Airbus Helicopters)

The Polish Ministry of Defence has delayed until December 31 the deadline for submission of final offers to meet its large requirement for medium multirole helicopters. Two of the three contenders said they could not meet earlier deadlines. A contract award has been postponed until the second quarter of next year.

Poland is seeking 72 multirole helicopters to replace an aging fleet of Soviet-era Mi-8/14/17s for troop transport, search-and-rescue and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) roles. At the end of May invitations to tender (ITT) were sent to three competing teams: Airbus Helicopters with Heli Invest, offering the EC725 Caracal; AgustaWestland with PZL Świdnik, offering the AW149; and Sikorsky with PZL Mielec, offering the S-70i Black Hawk and possibly also S-70B Sea Hawks. Airbus Helicopters last year became the last of the three competing teams to announce a local production arrangement.

The ITT prompted the contenders to submit more than 800 questions seeking clarification.

At the end of October, the Sikorsky/PZL Mielec team said it could not meet all the requirements as stated by the MoD and called for some changes. In mid-November, Airbus Helicopters president Guillaume Faury complained that a postponement would be unfair. One week later, the Polish MoD confirmed that both the Sikorsky/PZL Mielec team and the AgustaWestland/PZL Swidnik team had requested an extension, which had been granted. The helicopters these teams are offering (the S-70 and AW149, respectively) are much smaller than the EC725. An ASW version of the AW149 is in development.

Meanwhile, citing sources within the company, French newspaper La Tribune reported that the Airbus Helicopters website had been hacked, and that the company suspected American involvement connected to the Polish tender. Airbus Helicopters told the newspaper that no classified information had been compromised but made no further comment that would confirm the newspaper’s story.

Within Poland, the tender has become a political issue, with the head of the leading opposition party (which won recent local elections) suggesting that Poland should choose American helicopters. The French sale of two helicopter-carrying warships to Russia—which is now on hold—has also entered the debate.