Poland Selects Leonardo AW149 Helicopters

The Polish Ministry of Defense has chosen Leonardo’s AW149 helicopters as the new utility aircraft of the Polish Army. Poland’s MoD publicly announced the decision at the start of the month, on 1 July, choosing to follow a sole source contract route.

The deal between Poland’s Ministry of Defense and Leonardo covers 32 aircraft, with the contract worth 8,250 billion PLN (roughly $2 billion), which also includes a logistics package alongside simulators and courses for future pilots. The AW149s will fulfil transportation and combat support missions. The Ministry of Defense stated that the helicopters are going to be fitted with a variety of offensive equipment including guided and unguided missiles as well as means of self-defense and countermeasures.

The purchase of a modern utility helicopter has been one of the Polish Armed Forces’ priorities in recent years, with the urgent need to replace Poland’s aging post-Soviet aircraft fleet. There has been some criticism over the choice of Leonardo. Firstly, the 32 helicopters will supplement the fleet of 4 AW101s and 8 S-70i “Black Hawks”, creating additional maintenance costs. Secondly, the Polish Armed Forces will have to wait 6 years for the completion of the order and delivery of the last AW149.

An earlier offer from Leonardo was rejected in 2014, when the Airbus H225M won the competition against the Italian joint-venture and Sikorsky’s S-70i “Black Hawk”. However, recent reports from TVN24 shed light on potential efforts by Leonardo to undermine the the Polish choice. The efforts allegedly involved letters from an Archbishop and a social media campaign targeted to influence Polish members of parliament. This campaign supposedly led to the termination of the contract between the Polish government and Airbus.

Nonetheless, the decision to purchase modern utility helicopters in the midst of war in Ukraine is another step in the mass modernization that is currently underway within the Polish Armed Forces. This aircraft procurement will also support the Polish military industry, as some of the production processes may take place in the PZL Świdnik factory.

Cover photo: Polish Ministry of Defense under CC-BY 3.0 License