Poland launches tender for 14 army helicopters - ministry

WARSAW, Dec 1 (Reuters) - Poland has launched a tender to buy 14 helicopters as part of an urgent operational need of the armed forces, the defence ministry said in a statement on Thursday without elaborating.

The ministry said NATO member Poland would spend all the funds allocated in the state budget this year to modernise its armed forces, despite having cancelled a preliminary deal to buy 50 Caracal helicopters from France’s Airbus.

Critics said cancelling the 13.5 billion zloty ($3.4 billion) Airbus deal would mean Poland could fail to spend all the funds earmarked for army modernisation and fall short of the NATO target of spending at least 2 percent of output on defence.

“The Ministry of Defence plans to spend over 61 billion zlotys on the programme of technical modernisation (of the armed forces) in the years 2017-2022,” the ministry said in its statement on Thursday.

“Out of this, over 24 billion zlotys will be spent within the next three years,” the ministry said. “Additionally, spending on army modernisation not included in the technical modernisation programme will reach about 17 billion zlotys.”

After cancelling the Airbus deal, Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz said it would buy two Black Hawk helicopters from the Sikorsky Aircraft Corp’s factory in Poland this year and eight helicopters from the plant next year.

Later in October, the ministry said it had invited Airbus, Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky subsidiary and Leonardo-Finmeccanica for talks about buying army helicopters.

The defence ministry was not immediately available to comment on the tender for 14 helicopters.

NATO’s European members cut defence spending to historic lows after the break-up of the Soviet Union a quarter of a century ago.

Although military spending has increased due to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, among other things, only Britain, Poland, Greece and Estonia meet the goal of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defence.

$1 = 4.2086 zlotys Reporting by Marcin Goettig; editing by David Clarke