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Quote the Raven: Poland’s Attack Helicopter Competition

Defense Industry Daily - Wed, 12/10/2016 - 01:52
Polish Mi-24
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Recent Russian aggression in the Ukraine has sharpened Poland’s awareness of its status as NATO’s new linchpin state, and an ambitious 10-year military Technical Modernization Program (TMP) is underway. The country’s open, rolling terrain from East to West is very friendly to cavalry warfare, which makes good attack helicopters a necessity. Poland’s current fleet of 29 late Soviet-era Mi-24D/Vs has served them well, but they need more and better machines. Unsurprisingly, the planned Kruk (“Raven”) attack helicopter replacement competition was one of the TMP projects targeted for acceleration in the wake of recent events.

Contracts and Key Events FY 2015 – 2016

T-129 ATAK
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October 12/16: Airbus struck back at the Polish government yesterday following the dropping of a multi-billion Caracel helicopter deal. In an open letter to the Prime Minister, the Aerospace giant accused the government of shifting the goalposts as Airbus competed with US and Italian rivals, and attempting to contravene European Union regulations. Speaking in a separate email, Airbus Group Chief Executive Tom Enders said “never have we been treated by any government customer the way this government has treated us.” Industry sources estimate Airbus’ cost of running the helicopter sales campaign at several tens of millions of euros.

October 11/16: France has reacted angrily to Poland dropping a multi-billion helicopter deal with Airbus, warning that it would review defense cooperation with its NATO ally and cancelling a presidential visit to Warsaw. Winning support as a populist, right-wing, eurosceptics, the ruling Law & Justice party (PiS) said they would rather see the deal awarded to a company that could build the helicopters locally. Polish media reports that Warsaw has already begun negotiations with Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky, manufacturer of locally-produced Black Hawk helicopters that could be purchased by the Polish army as soon as this year.

October 8/15: Poland has progressed its competition to replace the country’s fleet of Mil Mi-24 attack helicopters, with talks scheduled to soon begin with the four bidders. The ‘Kruk’ (‘Raven’) competition has attracted bids from Airbus with the EC665 Tiger; Bell Helicopters with the AH-1Z Cobra; Boeing with the AH-64 Apache and Turkish Aerospace Industries with the T129 ATAK. Despite the Polish Defence Ministry announcing in April that a winner is due for selection by the end of the year, these talks are scheduled to last one week per company, concluding by the end of November and a contract is now expected in the latter half of 2017.

April 22/15: In addition to the Patriot announcement, Poland has selected the Airbus H225M to fulfill its tri-service helicopter requirement. 50 of the Airbus helicopters will replace the current 40-strong fleet of Mil Mi-17s; a figure revised down from the original requirement for 70 units. The H225M beat out AgustaWestland’s AW149 and Sikorsky’s S-70i Black Hawk and S-70B Seahawk, with the winning helicopter set to undergo checks this May and June to verify its capabilities against Poland’s requirement set. The Eastern European state is also looking to upgrade its attack helicopter fleet. Combined with the Patriot program, the helicopter procurement will account for approximately a quarter of Poland’s eight-year defense modernization budget.

Aug 5/14: The Polish defence ministry has said that it is considering bids from 10 manufacturers under the Kruk competition. They wouldn’t name names, saying only that it involved “foreign and domestic companies offering both ready-made helicopters and components for assembly.”

The difference between ready-made and assembly kits is a bidder’s choice, and the kits option is often used to comply with local industrial offset rules. The harder question is how to get to 10 manufacturers, given the limited number of attack helicopter options out there.

Obvious leaders include Airbus (EC665 Tiger HAD), AW/TAI (T129 ATAK), Bell Helicopter (AH-1Z) and Boeing (AH-64E). South Africa’s Denel offers the Rooivalk, which hasn’t been exported but has competed elsewhere. Sikorsky is working very hard to win Poland’s utility helicopter competition with the S-70i, which is the focus of that company’s 2nd largest helicopter plant. Their Battlehawk add-on kit could offer Poland a single-type force that’s able to perform both utility and attack roles. That’s 6 possible competitors; beyond this list, one must either stretch the boundaries of the term “attack helicopter” to incorporate armed scouts, or entertain far less likely options. Russian Helicopters’ Ka-52 and Mi-28 are absolute non-starters, but there are rumors that Poland’s MRO and upgrade shop WZL-2 S.A. has bid, and that Israel’s IAI and RAFAEL also responded. Sources: Polskie Radio, “10 bidders to modernize Poland’s combat helicopter fleet”.

July 8/14: Kruk program launched, deadline to respond to the RFI is Aug 1/14. The program was originally supposed to launch a tender in 2018, with deliveries beginning in 2020, but the tender has now been moved up to 2015. Quantities may also be changing: the program’s original goal was 32 helicopters, but current reports indicate that Poland may increase that to 40.

In the mean time, Phase 1 involves setting technical and operational requirements, following market research. Hence the RFI. Next comes a more detailed feasibility study and staffing requirements based on the responses, followed by the formal RFP in 2015. Sources: Polish MON, “Rusza program smiglowcow uderzeniowych” | Emirates 24/7 News, “Poland launches tender for assault helicopters” | Flightglobal, “Poland launches attack helicopter acquisition” | IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, “Poland starts ‘Kruk’ attack helicopter acquisition programme”.

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Thanks for tips to: Lukasz Pacholski.

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