Poland Chooses European Helicopters and American Missiles

 - April 22, 2015, 7:24 AM
The Polish ministry of defense announced that it had "pre-selected" the Airbus Helicopters H225M Caracal (formerly the Eurocopter EC725) to replace the Mil helicopters used by the nation's land forces and Navy.

The Polish ministry of defense announced the winners of two long-running competitions for transport helicopters and air defense missiles yesterday. The Airbus Helicopters H225M Caracal (previously designated EC725) has been “pre-selected” for the helicopter requirement. The Raytheon Patriot surface-to-air missile system has been chosen over the MBDA/Thales Aster 30 system.

The helicopter decision will be a blow to Sikorsky, which was the first Western rotary-wing manufacturer to invest in the Polish aerospace industry. The S-70 is being license-produced by PZL Mielec. But a statement from the Polish ministry of defense explained that the S-70 had not been chosen for formal and technical reasons, including the mission system. Also, the proposed delivery schedule was too long. Sikorsky said it is “extremely disappointed.” The third bidder was AgustaWestland, with PZL Świdnik, offering the AW149.

An Airbus Helicopters spokesman said the Caracal probably best meets some key criteria such as being combat-proven and offering a single platform. Heli Invest, Airbus' partner in the Polish contract, will play a role in the local production of the aircraft. So far, it has been Airbus Helicopters' distributor and maintenance service provider for civil products. A final assembly line is to be built in Lodz, where Airbus Helicopers had recently inaugurated a research and development center. The first copies of the Polish Caracals will be built at Airbus' factory in Marignane, France, where Polish workers will be trained. Engine maker Turbomeca will also set up a final assembly line in Poland for the Makila turboshaft.

The Airbus spokesman would not comment on the reported value of the Airbus bid: €2.3 billion ($2.5 billion). However, a contract will not be signed until after Poland has conducted a full technical evaluation and flight test of the H225M in May-June. Deliveries will start in 2017.

According to the requirement released in March 2013, the acquisition program targets the replacement of the Mil Mi-17/Mi-8 TTH for the country's land forces and the Mi-14 for the navy. For the tactical transport (land) role, 36 helicopters are required, in addition to eight for the naval missions and 26 for combat search and rescue and medevac (including eight for the special forces). However, the Polish ministry of defense said yesterday that 50 Mi-17s would now be retained and indicated that the final contract will be for 50 H225Ms.

All are now eagerly waiting for Poland to formally issue a tender for 25 to 30 attack helicopters, following a recent request for information (RFI). Yesterday’s statement promised a quick process for this acquisition.

Eight batteries of Patriot missiles are to be acquired, via the U.S. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) process. The first two will arrive within three years of contract signature, with the balance by 2025. The Polish ministry of defense said choosing the Patriot carries less technical risk; the missileis already in service with more than 10 countries. The ministry will negotiate offsets and technical transfer to Polish industry as part of the deal.