All change as Poland boosts military spending
POLAND has earmarked 130 billion pln (31.5 billion euros) for arms spending until 2022.
The modernisation programme is designed to replace Soviet-era military equipment which is fast approaching its ‘sell-by date’ writes Andrzej Bobinski.
The core of these acquisitions is on a 22 billion euros shopping list called the ‘Polish Armed Forces Technical Modernisation Plan‘, approved by the government in September 2013.
The list is divided into 14 operational programmes, grouped into bigger categories: air defence, drones, helicopters, air, navy and ground forces.
Two tenders are a priority and should be decided in 2014. One is for 70 helicopters, the other for a short and medium-range missile and air defence system.
Another important reason for the programme is the need to update Poland’s big, mainly state-owned, arms industry which will soon become obsolete.
The factories which service Soviet equipment will soon have nothing to do and the ones producing new weapons are not innovative enough to compete globally.
The government wants to use its companies to provide Polish industry with contracts and make it more creative by boosting links between science, academia and business.
To achieve this, the government has started consolidating an industry in decline. The Polish Arms Group (Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa or PGZ) was registered in November 2013. Today it has a statute, management and supervisory boards and a one-room office in Radom, central Poland.
It is still waiting for an injection of capital and has no money to operate, companies are not necessarily happy with being integrated in a new structure and it needs a clear plan of how it will operate.
It is also waiting for an indication of where it will end up - it could be listed on the Polish Stock Exchange or perhaps integrated into the European Airbus Group - once the consolidation process is complete.
Two big tenders are under way in the middle of the consolidation process. They are competitive and should be decided by price and technical capability, but political aspects often come into play.
The helicopter tender is to be decided in the second half of 2014. Poland plans to buy 70 multi-purpose machines. Next it will launch a tender for assault helicopters. By 2022 it should have a fleet of almost 150 new helicopters.
Sikorsky Aircraft is offering its S-70 Black Hawks, assembled in south-eastern Poland. The Airbus Group is proposing EC725 Caracals and has promised to assemble them in the WZL-1 plant in Lodz. Augusta-Westland has offered the modern AW149 which would be assembled in Swidnik in the east of Poland.
The Caracal appears to be the front-runner, as it has strong French government support and the idea of Poland joining Airbus is still a possibility. The Caracal has seen action and can transport 28 soldiers.
The strongest argument is that the American company Raytheon appears to be the favourite to supply the air missile defence system and the helicopter contract would then become the consolation prize for the European defence industry.
The short and mid-range air defence tender is also under way. The four competitors are offering six to eight missile batteries, able to shoot down aircraft and ballistic missiles, complete with radar and control and command systems.
For a long time it seemed the European consortium of Thales and MBDA, co-owned by the Airbus Group, was the favourite for the contract. Its Aster missiles are state-of-the-art.
The Polish defence industry - which will get at least half of the contracts from the winning consortium - was looking forward to working with a European, state-owned entity. Finally the promise of integrating into the Airbus Group seemed to be a winning argument for both Polish politicians and industry business leaders.
The situation changed a few weeks ago. The Ukraine and Crimea crisis has had a strong impact on Poland. 'Security’ is a word frequently repeated, and the military lobby has made good use of this.
The army wants American weapons and is less interested in the political and industrial aspects of the tender.
Raytheon improved its bid and is now offering a new generation of PAC-3 MSE missiles and a state-of-the-art 360 degree radar which is still on the drawing board. It seems it has gained a strong lead.
The first two phases of the technical dialogue were complete by the end of March 2014 and an initial decision on who will be asked to submit a final offer will be made in June.