Poland has announced the signing of a contract worth more than 1 billion euros with Leonardo to acquire 23 AW-149 helicopters. The first deliveries will be made in 2023, when the aircraft will be used by the armed forces.
A €1.1 billion contract
Like many European Union countries in recent months, Poland continues to step up its military investments. For example, the Polish Ministry of Defense announced that a meeting was held on July 1 with the Italian firm Leonardo (formerly AugustaWestland) to sign a major contract. The two sides agreed to Polish purchase of 32 AW149 helicopters. The aircraft will be delivered between 2023 and 2029 and 1965 eequip the armed forces. Milan-based Italian investment bank Banca Akros estimates the cost of the acquisition at around €1.1 billion. The Defense24 website reveals that the new AW149s will be assembled in Poland by manufacturer PZL-Swidnik, under the supervision of Leonardo.
The aim is to modernize a fleet of helicopters dating from the Cold War. The AW149s will come in three distinct versions: support and logistics, reconnaissance, and combat. The latter will be "heavily armed" and notably equipped with anti-tank munitions. Launched in 2006, the AW149 has a large fuselage allowing it to carry between 16 and 18 fully equipped soldiers, as well as a substantial payload (around 2,700 kg). It can reach a cruising speed of 278 km/h and fly for nearly four hours. At present, only the Egyptian Navy and the Thai Army have military AW-149s.
Replacing the Soviet fleet
The Polish Air Force currently has 43 helicopters in service, including some produced during the Soviet era. There are sixteen PZL Mil Mi-2 Hoplite, manufactured between 1965 and 1998, sixteen PZL W-3 Sokól, production of which was halted in 2015, and eleven Russian-designed Mil Mi-17s from 1975. Poland has been interested in upgrading its helicopter armada for several years now, with four Black Hawks already ordered from U.S.-based Sikorsky.
In 2016, Poland's Ministry of Defense canceled negotiations with Airbus over a possible deal. The central European country was considering investing more than €3.5 billion to buy 50 H225M Caracal helicopters, manufactured by Airbus. But the newly inaugurated government of Beata Szydło blamed Airbus for a lack of flexibility in negotiations. The 32 Italian AW149s make up for the cancellation of the originally planned deal with the Franco-German firm.
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