LODZ, Poland and LONDON — is exporting its military helicopter production model to meet the needs of the Polish armed forces.
The manufacturer, along with engine company, announced on April 4 that it will partner with the Lodz-based Polish Military Aviation Works No. 1, known as WZL 1, as part of its tender for the Polish armed forces’ new helicopter fleet. Eurocopter is offering its EC725 medium-lift helicopter for the tender, with assembly of both the aircraft and engines taking place in Poland, as desired by the Polish government.
Under Eurocopter plans, the EC725s would be assembled in Lodz and include what the company calls a “comprehensive in-country industrial work package” that includes MRO capabilities.
The model is similar to that already established in Brazil, where Eurocopter has expanded the capabilities of its majority-owned subsidiary Helibras, which is currently building 50 EC725s for the, navy and army. It is also hoped that the same facility will produce the civilian version of the aircraft, the EC225 to meet the needs of the Latin American oil and gas market.
Eurocopter also hinted that the Polish facility could be open to “future export contracts.”
Poland launched a tender for 70 medium helicopters in 2012. The government is expected to issue a request for proposals in October, with a downselect slated for early 2014. Initial aircraft from any contract would be built in France, with the majority built in Poland. Eurocopter says the first Polish EC725 could enter service in late 2015.
Around 48 of the 70 utility aircraft will be configured for troop transport operations, 12 will be used by the navy for anti-submarine warfare and search and rescue (SAR), while the remaining 10 will be configured solely for SAR.
But Eurocopter will have some catching up to do. Competitorsand already enjoy a firm foothold in Poland, following AgustaWestland’s takeover of PZL-Swidnik and Sikorsky’s takeover of PZL Mielec. These facilities are already up and running, producing helicopters and components for their respective parents. PZL-Swidnik produces the SW-4 light helicopter and the W-3 Sokol intermediate twin helo, as well as fuselages for the AW109 and AW139, while PZL-Mielec produces the M-28 fixed-wing transport plane and also builds the S-70i.
Under the Polish tender, AgustaWestland is offering the AW149 utility helicopter and Sikorsky its S-70i International Black Hawk. Eurocopter contends neither helicopter is battle-proven, and the EC725 is closest in size to the helicopters that Poland’s armed forces fly today. Sikorsky argues otherwise, pointing out that the S-70i is a customized version of the, which has been used by the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.
WZL 1 was established in 1945 to perform overhaul work for the Polish air force. Today the company works out of an annex of Lodz airport performing maintenance and overhaul work on Polish military helicopters including the Mi-2, the Mi-8/17 Hip, Mi-14 Haze and the Mi-35 Hind, as well as the U.S.-built Kaman SH-2G SeaSprite, which is in service in small numbers with the Polish navy.also gained a foothold in Poland after it took over PZL Warsawa-Okecie in 2001. The company previously built the Orlik turboprop trainer but is now an aerostructures specialist.
Poland’s new helicopter requirement is potentially one of the largest rotary-wing tenders seen in Europe for decades. While the order for 70 on its own is significant, the Polish also hope to purchase a new fleet of attack helicopters to replace the aging Mi-24 Hind, in addition to 24 heavy transport helicopters capable of carrying 30 troops or 5,000 kg (11,000 lb.) of payload.
Poland’s armed forces currently operate some 250 rotary-wing helicopters, the majority being Russian or Polish-built, although the navy does operate a handful of Kaman SH-2G Super SeaSprites.