By S.L. Fuller | October 20, 2016
The latest media reports on the Polish Defense Ministry's journey to update its helicopter fleet has the government right back where it started. After discarding negotiations with Airbus Helicopters after selecting the company's H22M Caracals for the update, Poland has reopened the floor for consideration of other airframes.
When Poland's prime minister, Baeta Szydlo, and Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz met with Sikorsky/Lockheed Martin-subsidiary PZL Mielec last week, it resulted in a purchase agreement for Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawks. PZL Mielec emphasized in a statement that the aircraft will be made by Polish workers in Poland, and the company is ready to start the negotiation and implementation phases of the agreement. However, news outlets report that Poland is interested in more than just Black Hawks and maybe more than just Sikorskys.
Airbus, Leonardo and Sikorsky were all part of the original bid for the defense update. Now, some outlets are saying it's those three that have been invited back to the table for this new tender. It's unclear how this endeavor will affect the recently agreed upon Black Hawk purchase.
This invitation doesn’t necessarily imply that tensions have eased between Airbus Helicopters and the Polish government. A Polish news outlet recently reported that the failed deal would have made up for the 2014 French loss of a sale to Russia due to complications regarding the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The two Mistral battleships were eventually sold to Egypt instead, but there was reportedly a “gentleman’s agreement” within the EU and NATO, giving preference to France the next time an opportunity arose for a military contract.
But since then, a new presidential administration has arrived in Poland, bringing with it new ideologies. Airbus has not taken the dropped negotiations lightly, with reports saying the company wanted to sue for compensation for monetary losses it accrued while negotiating the purchase agreement. Other reports said this could have political and diplomatic repercussions. France's president, Francois Hollande, did not visit Poland as planned at the beginning of the month, with Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault going in his place. A visit by French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was also canceled.
In response to media attention and a statement given by Polish Deputy Minister of Defense Bartosz Kownacki, saying the Caracal talks ended because Airbus Helicopters “did not meet the security interests of the State,” Airbus Helicopters came out with its own statement, signed by its CEO. In the form of an “Open Letter to the Polish Prime Minister,” the statement made transparent what the company was offering and refuting some claims made by the media.
The Polish governments need to spend money and update its fleet is reportedly urgent, with international tensions looming and fund-availability deadlines approaching. This urgency, news reports say, is what allowed Poland to go to PZL Mielec and purchase Black Hawks without announcing a new tender.
Photo courtesy of Airbus Helicopters