Recent Russian aggression in the Ukraine has sharpened Poland’s awareness of its status as NATO’s new linchpin state, and an ambitious 10-year military Technical Modernization Program (TMP) is underway. The country’s open, rolling terrain from East to West is very friendly to cavalry warfare, which makes good attack helicopters a necessity. Poland’s current fleet of 29 late Soviet-era Mi-24D/Vs has served them well, but they need more and better machines. Unsurprisingly, the planned Kruk (“Raven”) attack helicopter replacement competition was one of the TMP projects targeted for acceleration in the wake of recent events.
Contracts and Key Events
January 20/17: Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz has said that his government is considering a 2017 splurge on new military hardware. Macierewicz name-dropped Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky subsidiary, Leonardo, and somewhat surprisingly Airbus, as potential suppliers of 14 helicopters to the Polish army. While both Sikorsky and Leonardo have plants located in Poland, relations between Airbus and the ruling Law & Justice Party soured last year following the cancellation of a $3.2 billion deal to provide 50 H225M Caracals. The ministry has also proposed a plan to buy between 50-100 F-16s as well as three new submarines with contracts to be signed by either the end of the year or in early 2018.
November 8/16: Egypt and Russia have been dragged into the ongoing war of words surrounding Poland’s dropped Caracel helicopter deal with Airbus and France. Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz accused Egypt of reselling French-built Mistral amphibious assault ships initially intended for Russia to the Russian Navy for the princely sum of €1. Yes, one Euro. The comments, made during a parliamentary session, outraged France, who abandoned the Russian sale under pressure from NATO allies. However Macierewicz’s remarks pale in comparison to his deputy who dismissively said that the Poles had taught the French “to eat with a fork a couple of centuries ago” after France revoked Poland’s invitation to the Euronaval 2016 defense expo in Paris.
November 1/16: Polish prosecutors are to investigate the recently scrapped Caracel military helicopter deal with Airbus to see if the move circumvented Polish law or was linked to corruption. Speaking to local media, prosecutor Michal Dziekanski said “this will be a complicated, comprehensive investigation, encompassing a very large set of evidence.” Tomasz Siemoniak, the defense minister responsible for originally brokering the deal during the previous administration, called the Airbus tender “fair and transparent” and said it was canceled by his rivals for political reasons.
FY 2015 – 2016
October 27/16: Airbus will seek compensation from Poland following the government’s shooting down of the previous administration’s 50-unit order for H225M multirole helicopters. Following four years of work on the tender, the company’s chief financial officer Harald Wilhelm said the group “had spent years trusting that it was in a fair competition” and that it would now “seek remedies” from Warsaw. Wilhelm added that the deal “would have committed us to build a competitive aerospace industry in Poland.”
October 20/16: Negotiations are underway between Poland and Ukraine to launch a joint production effort of helicopters that could be used by the militaries of Central and Eastern European allies. But while Poland is currently in the midst of two increasingly complicated helicopter tenders, Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz said any joint effort would most likely be on a new model “based on the industrial potential of both countries. We know that the Ukrainians make excellent engines, produced by Motor Sich.” Based in southeastern Ukraine, Motor Sich has supplied engines for a variety of Ukrainian and Russian aircraft including the Antonov An-8 and An-10, the Yakovlev Yak-40 and Yak-42, and the Mil Mi-8MT, Mi-14 and Mi-171.
October 12/16: Airbus struck back at the Polish government yesterday following the dropping of a multi-billion Caracel helicopter deal. In an open letter to the Prime Minister, the Aerospace giant accused the government of shifting the goalposts as Airbus competed with US and Italian rivals, and attempting to contravene European Union regulations. Speaking in a separate email, Airbus Group Chief Executive Tom Enders said “never have we been treated by any government customer the way this government has treated us.” Industry sources estimate Airbus’ cost of running the helicopter sales campaign at several tens of millions of euros.
October 11/16: France has reacted angrily to Poland dropping a multi-billion helicopter deal with Airbus, warning that it would review defense cooperation with its NATO ally and cancelling a presidential visit to Warsaw. Winning support as a populist, right-wing, eurosceptics, the ruling Law & Justice party (PiS) said they would rather see the deal awarded to a company that could build the helicopters locally. Polish media reports that Warsaw has already begun negotiations with Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky, manufacturer of locally-produced Black Hawk helicopters that could be purchased by the Polish army as soon as this year.
October 8/15: Poland has progressed its competition to replace the country’s fleet of Mil Mi-24 attack helicopters, with talks scheduled to soon begin with the four bidders. The ‘Kruk’ (‘Raven’) competition has attracted bids from Airbus with the EC665 Tiger; Bell Helicopters with the AH-1Z Cobra; Boeing with the AH-64 Apache and Turkish Aerospace Industries with the T129 ATAK. Despite the Polish Defence Ministry announcing in April that a winner is due for selection by the end of the year, these talks are scheduled to last one week per company, concluding by the end of November and a contract is now expected in the latter half of 2017.
April 22/15: In addition to the Patriot announcement, Poland has selected the Airbus H225M to fulfill its tri-service helicopter requirement. 50 of the Airbus helicopters will replace the current 40-strong fleet of Mil Mi-17s; a figure revised down from the original requirement for 70 units. The H225M beat out AgustaWestland’s AW149 and Sikorsky’s S-70i Black Hawk and S-70B Seahawk, with the winning helicopter set to undergo checks this May and June to verify its capabilities against Poland’s requirement set. The Eastern European state is also looking to upgrade its attack helicopter fleet. Combined with the Patriot program, the helicopter procurement will account for approximately a quarter of Poland’s eight-year defense modernization budget.
Aug 5/14: The Polish defence ministry has said that it is considering bids from 10 manufacturers under the Kruk competition. They wouldn’t name names, saying only that it involved “foreign and domestic companies offering both ready-made helicopters and components for assembly.”
The difference between ready-made and assembly kits is a bidder’s choice, and the kits option is often used to comply with local industrial offset rules. The harder question is how to get to 10 manufacturers, given the limited number of attack helicopter options out there.
Obvious leaders include Airbus (EC665 Tiger HAD), AW/TAI (T129 ATAK), Bell Helicopter (AH-1Z) and Boeing (AH-64E). South Africa’s Denel offers the Rooivalk, which hasn’t been exported but has competed elsewhere. Sikorsky is working very hard to win Poland’s utility helicopter competition with the S-70i, which is the focus of that company’s 2nd largest helicopter plant. Their Battlehawk add-on kit could offer Poland a single-type force that’s able to perform both utility and attack roles. That’s 6 possible competitors; beyond this list, one must either stretch the boundaries of the term “attack helicopter” to incorporate armed scouts, or entertain far less likely options. Russian Helicopters’ Ka-52 and Mi-28 are absolute non-starters, but there are rumors that Poland’s MRO and upgrade shop WZL-2 S.A. has bid, and that Israel’s IAI and RAFAEL also responded. Sources: Polskie Radio, “10 bidders to modernize Poland’s combat helicopter fleet”.
July 8/14: Kruk program launched, deadline to respond to the RFI is Aug 1/14. The program was originally supposed to launch a tender in 2018, with deliveries beginning in 2020, but the tender has now been moved up to 2015. Quantities may also be changing: the program’s original goal was 32 helicopters, but current reports indicate that Poland may increase that to 40.
In the mean time, Phase 1 involves setting technical and operational requirements, following market research. Hence the RFI. Next comes a more detailed feasibility study and staffing requirements based on the responses, followed by the formal RFP in 2015. Sources: Polish MON, “Rusza program smiglowcow uderzeniowych” | Emirates 24/7 News, “Poland launches tender for assault helicopters” | Flightglobal, “Poland launches attack helicopter acquisition” | IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, “Poland starts ‘Kruk’ attack helicopter acquisition programme”.
Thanks for tips to: Lukasz Pacholski.
- DID – AH-64E Apache Block III: The Once and Future Attack Helicopter.
- DID – Snakes and Rotors: The USMC’s H-1 Helicopter Program. Includes the AH-1Z.
- DID – Armed & Versatile: Sikorsky’s ‘Battlehawk’ Helicopters. Based on the UH-60M/ S-70i. UAE was the launch customer, and Israel has tested a more extensive conversion.
- Airbus Helicopters – EC665 Tiger.
- Army Technology – Rooivalk Attack Helicopter, South Africa.
- DID – Turkey Finally Lands Its Attack Helicopters. The T-129 ATAK.
News & Views
- The Economist (July 26/14) – A front-line state.
- Reuters (July 15/14) – Airbus offers Poland core status in helicopter bid. Refers to utility helicopters (AW149 vs. EC725 vs. S-70i), but industrial considerations transfer over.