* Poland to choose best tender offer within weeks
* Bids from France, Israel, U.S. in running
* Faster timeframe reflects crisis in next-door Ukraine
(Adds quotes, details)
By Marcin Goettig and Andrea Shalal
WARSAW/WASHINGTON, March 20 Poland has decided
to speed up its tender for a missile defence system, a defence
ministry spokesman said on Thursday, in a sign of Warsaw's
disquiet over the tension between neighbouring Ukraine and
"The issues related with Poland's air defence will be
accelerated," spokesman Jacek Sonta said. "Poland plans to
choose the best offer for its missile defence in the next few
The NATO member had planned to reduce the number of bidders
by June, but the crisis in Ukraine and concerns about Russia's
annexation of Crimea have prompted officials to speed up the
There are four bidders: France's Thales, in a
consortium with European group MBDA and the Polish state defence
group; the Israeli government; Raytheon of the United
States; and the MEADS consortium led by Lockheed Martin.
The spokesman added that Poland would like to sign the final
agreement on the construction of the missile shield this year.
One of the bidders, MEADS, said the tender was worth about
$5 billion, but experts say the whole missile shield will be
worth up to 40 billion zlotys ($13.1 billion), including
maintenance costs. It is to be completed by the end of 2022.
Poland fell under Soviet domination after World War Two,
along with the rest of Eastern Europe, but was one of the first
to shake off Communist rule in 1989. It has taken an active
diplomatic role in the crisis over Ukraine, including by
requesting NATO consultations earlier this month.
U.S. Congressman Stephen Lynch welcomed Poland's decision to
speed up its defence plans.
"I think the action in Crimea makes it abundantly clear that
NATO needs to do more to upgrade its defences, not just missile
defences," the Massachusetts Democrat told Reuters.
"But certainly I can fully support the decision by Poland to
expedite that whole process and I think it's entirely
appropriate that we should support that effort," he added.
The first phase of the Polish system is to comprise eight
sets of mid-range interceptor rockets, which may later be
supplemented by short-range and long-range ones. Poland has
already passed legislation to secure funding for the shield, the
defence ministry spokesman said.
The planned system is separate from elements of a U.S.
missile shield to be deployed in Poland by 2018, as confirmed by
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on a visit to Warsaw this week.
($1 = 3.0482 Polish Zlotys)
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark