Poland has offered more detail on the reasoning behind its decision to select the Airbus Helicopters H225M Caracal for a reduced 50-unit order across all three branches of its armed forces.
Czeslaw Mroczek, deputy minister of national defence, says Poland will spend approximately Zl13 billion ($3.5 billion) on the acquisition as part of a broad military modernisation programme.
Mroczek says although the H225M has only been pre-selected, pending the outcome of technical evaluations, “that means, in practice, this company will win the proceedings, [as] it seems unlikely that the helicopter will not pass the test".
Offsets played a key role on the decision, he says, with Airbus Helicopters meeting 71 of the 105 criteria, while AgustaWestland could only fulfil 41 and Sikorsky 50.
In addition, says Mroczek, Sikorsky’s offer of the S-70i Black Hawk/S-70B Seahawk did not include the cost of weapon systems, and AgustaWestland and its local subsidiary PZL Swidnik could only begin deliveries of the AW149 within four years of the contract signing, rather than two as stipulated.
Warsaw decided to cut the size of its commitment from 70 to 50 helicopters on grounds of cost, says Mroczek.
Spread across the three services, eight will be configured for anti-submarine warfare, eight for the special forces, five for medevac missions, 13 for combat search and rescue – split between the navy and air force – and 16 as transports.
In the meantime, Poland will look to extend the life of its current fleet of 40 Mil Mi-8/17 rotorcraft over the next 10-12 years, with an additional tender for 20 more multirole helicopters to be launched during the period, says Mroczek.
Flight tests of Caracal in Poland are planned for May, ahead of finalisation of the contract in the third quarter.An offset agreement is to be negotiated by the ministry of economy at the same time.
Sikorsky says it is “extremely disappointed” by the decision, but that it remains able to deliver “low-risk multirole helicopters” should the situation change.
It had promised offsets worth $3.3 billion and was able to deliver the helicopters within 12 months of the contract signing.
For PZL Swidnik, however, the issue is more serious. It had long warned about its future viability if the AW149 was not selected. It says: “By its decision, the [defence ministry has] seriously challenged the established position of PZL Swidnik, which is the only Polish company capable of design, manufacture and maintenance of helicopters.
“This decision will force [parent companies] Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland into a re-evaluation of the strategic role of PZL Swidnik in the group.”