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Poland suspends latest helicopter acquisition

Poland's increasingly farcical programme to procure new helicopters for its armed forces has lurched to a new low after bidders for an eight-unit combat search and rescue tender were told the programme was being shelved.

Warsaw has been attempting to acquire new rotorcraft since at least 2012. Its initial tender called for 70 helicopters split between all three services, but on selecting the Airbus Helicopters H225M Caracal in April 2015, this figure was reduced to 50.

However, a change of government later that year led to the cancellation of the agreement in October 2016, with Poland instead attempting to buy two separate lots of helicopters: eight for the CSAR mission and a further eight for its navy to perform anti-submarine warfare/SAR tasks.

However, on 11 June, the country's armaments inspectorate informed the three bidders – a consortium of Airbus Helicopters and Heli Invest, PZL Mielec/Sikorsky, and Leonardo Helicopters' local operation, PZL Świdnik – that the invitation to submit final offers was being withdrawn.

Airbus Helicopters and PZL PZL Świdnik had also proposed solutions for the naval requirement.

But two days later, defence minister Mariusz Mariusz Błaszczak denied in a radio interview that the acquisition had been cancelled.

It will still proceed, he insists, but will be re-prioritised against other purchases for the armed forces.

"My task is to provide modern equipment for the Polish Army and there is a legal and financial basis for that," he says.

But Błaszczak did not clarify how and when any new helicopters would be bought.

Earlier this month, the defence ministry released details of its modernisation priorities for the period to 2026, but multirole helicopters were not included in the list.

In May, deputy defence minister Wojciech Skurkiewicz revealed in the Polish parliament that "the current priority of the [defence ministry] is acquiring four new ASW/SAR helicopters" to replace its four Kaman SH-2G(PL) Super Seasprites.

A lack of manufacturer support will force the helicopters, built in 1990, to be withdrawn from service, he says.

Warsaw still intends to acquire new attack helicopters after 2022 to replace the 29 Mil Mi-24s operated by the Polish Land Forces.

Its current fleet of transport helicopters – Mil Mi-8/17s and PZL Świdnik W-3s – will be overhauled and "stay in service for the next 10 years", says Skurkiewicz.

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