The Polish Government has agreed a timetable for the country's planned multi-billion dollar purchase of advanced fighter aircraft and helicopters and is pledging to issue formal tenders during the next few weeks. The move forms part of Poland's long-term effort to upgrade its equipment to NATO standards. It joined the alliance earlier this year.
The proposals call for the acquisition of 42 fighters and 50 attack helicopters to enter service by 2010, with a possible follow-on 90-100 fighter order beyond that date. Eighteen secondhand fighters are likely to be taken on interim leases before the first new-build aircraft are delivered.
Plans to develop the Huzar battlefield helicopter, based on the PZL-Swidnik W-3 Sokol, have been scrapped, and 50 will be modified for the support role instead. Bids will be invited to upgrade the Sokols with new rotors, more powerful engines, extra fuel tanks and additional armaments.
Polish prime minister Jerzy Buzek says an attack helicopter tender will be issued by the end of June, and "we expect a decision in October or November". The competition will be contested by the Agusta Mangusta, Bell AH-1W/Z Super Cobra, Boeing AH-64 Apache, Eurocopter Tiger and Denel Rooivalk. The manufacturers will be asked to bid "package solutions" which include guided missiles and other weapons.
The $3 billion fighter tender, according to Buzek, will be released by early August and a selection made about a year later. The choices are the Lockheed Martin F-16, Boeing F/A-18 (left), British Aerospace/Saab Gripen or the Dassault Mirage 2000.
Deliveries are expected to begin in 2006, although an interim batch of leased aircraft could be introduced as early as 2001. Surplus F-16s and F/A-18s are available from the US Air Force and Navy, respectively, while BAe's bid could be supported by the provision of ex-Swedish air force Saab Viggens.
Buzek says the decision to launch the tender process shows that the Polish Government has, "moved from discussions to concrete actions". The tenders will be drawn up by a committee headed by Polish Minister of Economy Janusz Steinhoff.
Serious question marks remain over funding, however, and Poland will expect to spread payments for the equipment over many years.
Heavy industrial offset packages will also be required.
Steinhoff says the fighter and helicopter acquisitions will also be "closely linked" with the privatisation of Polish defence companies. Several of the Western manufacturers preparing bids for the Polish requirements are considering buying into PZL(a new company set up to take over the ongoing operations of the bankrupt Mielic aircraft factory) and helicopter manufacturer Swidnik.
Poland is a critical battleground for Western defence firms as the outcome will heavily influence fellow new NATO members Hungary and the Czech Republic, which are also preparing to re-equip with new fighters.
Source: Flight International