Andrzej Jeziorski/WARSAW

DOUBTS OVER the Israeli NT-D anti-tank missile have blocked an expected Polish Council of Ministers' decision on an avionics integrator for the PZL-Swidnik W-3W Huzar combat support helicopter.

The Polish Council of Ministers' Defence Affairs Committee was to make a recommendation to the prime minister on 19 September. According to sources in Warsaw, the decision was halted after the Polish General Staff said that integration of the missile, now under development by Rafael, would produce an unacceptably high-technical risk and too expensive.

According to Polish industry sources, PZL-Swidnik management now holds out little hope for a decision this year, despite a statement from deputy prime minister Miroslaw Pietrewicz that the Huzar is a top priority for Poland.

The two leading competitors for the contract are Israel's Elbit - long the favourite to win - and Rockwell of the USA, handicapped up to now by the fact that its unsolicited offer was submitted after the Government's February deadline. Both contenders have been offering to integrate the fibre optic guided NT-D.

According to sources close to the negotiations, Rockwell backed away from its earlier offer of integrating the Hellfire II missile, which was to be licence-produced by the Polish manufacturer Mesko, because of Poland's prior selection of the NT-D.

The US manufacturer chose instead to offer to integrate the Israeli missile favoured by Poland (already included in Elbit's bid) with a "fall-back position" in case the missile is not ready on time, or fails to live up to performance promises. In such a case, Rockwell could still integrate the Hellfire II, HOT, TOW or the third-generation GEC/Rockwell Brimstone missile as alternatives.

On paper, the Hellfire II and the untested, long-range "Gadel" version of the NT-D, also known as the Spike, meet the Polish 6km (3nm) range requirement, which handicapped an earlier Euromissile-led French bid featuring the HOT 2T missile. Swidnik was also reluctant to work with Eurocopter partner Aerospatiale.

Project sources say that Poland had already decided before the latest developments not to sign any contracts with Rafael until the missile concept was proven, with test launches witnessed by Polish officials. Sources close to the Huzar programme say that the first test launch of the Gadel from a helicopter could now take place in November.

Other partners in the Rockwell bid are GEC-Marconi Defence Systems, which is to supply electronic-warfare equipment, Saab of Sweden, offering sensors and targeting systems, and Italy's Finmeccanica, supplying the nose- mounted gun. PZL-Swidnik would be the prime contractor in the US proposal.

Source: Flight International