Poland Plans AW149 Multirole Helicopter Purchase

Poland intends to buy the Leonardo AW149 multimission helicopter in the near future according to a statement from Minister of National Defense Mariusz Balszczak on June 13. The purchase will form part of the larger “Perkoz” multirole support helicopter program – part of the Defense Ministry’s modernization plan for the Polish armed forces referred to as Technical Modernization Plan 2021-2035.

Per a report by Polish news portal Defense24, Poland’s AW149 order will cover 32 helicopters involving three mission types: combat support, command, and reconnaissance and electronic warfare.

The helicopter procurement forms part of a larger defense acquisition package involving mine destroyers, tank destroyers, and a pair of observation satellites all brought forward due to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian threat along NATO’s Eastern front has prompted Alliance members to top-up defense budgets, accelerate weapons procurement plans, and, in the instance of former Warsaw Pact clients and Soviet satellites such as Poland, the Czech Republic, and the Baltic nations, rapidly reduce the Russian-sourced stockpiles of military hardware still in service with their respective armed forces.

For Poland, this means reducing and replacing its armed forces’ Soviet-legacy helicopter fleet composed primarily of Mil Mi-8 and Mi-17 transport/utility and Mi-24 attack helicopters.

Poland’s Ministry of National Defense has been pursuing a new-build medium-lift utility helicopter platform to replace the aging Mi-8 and Mi-17 fleets since early in the previous decade. This project has undergone multiple permutations.

Under the first outline, in March 2012, the project called for acquiring 26 helicopters. The total was then revised upward in September 2012 to include a broader complement of 70 units (48 for tactical troop transport, 16 for search and rescue, and 6 for anti-submarine warfare), before being revised a third time to a reduced total of 50 helicopters.

On April 21, 2015, the previous Civic Platform government announced its selection of the Airbus Helicopters H225M Caracal over the Leonardo AW149 and Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk. That tender was later scrapped by the newly elected conservative Law & Justice Party (PiS) in October 2016.

Reports from the Defense Ministry in December 2017 indicated that the medium-lift utility requirement would be rebooted under a fresh tender in the first half of 2018, but the entire program remained stalled until recently.

The AW149 acquisition will provide Poland with not only a much-needed new helicopter platform but also industrial work share, as the new units will be assembled by Leonardo’s Polish subsidiary PZL-Swidnik.

Along with the remainder of its Perkoz acquisition program, Poland must also begin expediting its purchase of a new fleet of attack helicopters (32 units) under its Kruk (Raven) program. The Boeing AH-64 Apache and Bell AH-1Z Viper are considered likely options to win the Kruk bid. The program foresees a first squadron (18 units) being delivered by 2026.

About Daniel Darling

Dan Darling is a senior analyst covering both the Europe and Asia-Pacific regions for Forecast International's International Military Markets group.

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