Poland announced on Monday that it will choose a supplier of 30 attack helicopters by the end of this year. The tender was recently sped up by the Polish Ministry of Defense because of what it called “changing security circumstances.” Namely fears of Russian aggression, which have spurred Poland to accelerate its $36 billion army modernization program.
Poland has been attempting to meet its military needs while also striking a geopolitical balance with its allies by awarding major contracts to both American and European firms. On April 21, the country announced that it will purchase a Patriot missile defense system from U.S.-based Raytheon for $5 billion, the largest in Poland’s military history. Russia’s annexation of Crimea last March caused much concern in Eastern Europe, where memories of the Soviet Union are still fresh. Russia’s destabilization of Ukraine moved up Poland’s timetable for selecting a missile defense system, and the country now plans to buy eight missile batteries by 2025, including two within three years of signing a final deal (after negotiations with the U.S. government).
Warsaw also provisionally selected the Caracal utility helicopter from France-based Airbus as its preferred choice in a $3 billion tender, subject to army testing. This deal is the largest defense acquisition from Western Europe since the end of the Cold War, and deliveries could begin as early as 2017. These 50 utility helicopters would have the benefit of being assembled in Poland, as part of a broad industrial pact with Airbus. The company plans to create 1,250 direct jobs and 2,500 indirect ones in Poland by 2020. As for the 30 attack helicopters, it remains to be seen which of the four potential bidders will be chosen: a grouping of Airbus Helicopters and Heli Invest Services, Turkish Aerospace Industries, Bell Helicopter Textron Co, and local firm BIT SA.
Russia’s presence is no abstract idea for Poland — the exclave of Kaliningrad (which is not contiguous with the rest of Russia) is sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea. Regional officials call the territory Moscow’s strategic arms depot inside Europe. Russia, which installed long-range S-400 anti-aircraft missiles in Kaliningrad, has also recently been delivering fighter jets there as part of a broader military buildup. On guard against “hybrid warfare,” of the type used by Russia against Ukraine, Poland is constructing six new watchtowers on its border with Kaliningrad to provide 24/7 surveillance. Most of the $3.87 million cost will be covered by the E.U.’s External Borders Fund.
Additionally, Poland plans to boost the armament efforts of neighboring countries through a fund comprised of government, bank, and export loans. Poland wants to play the role of regional leader in defense collaboration, and another objective for the fund would be to increase the foothold of Polish defense firms in other Eastern European markets. “To date, we have been looking for potential export deals in distant countries, while we have neglected neighboring markets. Financial support by the government will make it easier for Polish companies,” said Slawomir Kulakowski, head of the Polish Chamber of National Defense Manufacturers. The goal would be to facilitate more deals like the one in September when Lithuania’s Defense Ministry signed a contract with Polish arms maker Mesko to acquire GROM short-range portable air defense systems.
Russia, then, is not just a threat but also a boon to Poland’s defense industry.