(Adds details on missile production in Poland)
By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON, May 13 (Reuters) - Poland may choose a single winning bidder by June or July in a multi-billion dollar missile defense competition, months earlier than planned due to the crisis in Ukraine, a senior Lockheed Martin Corp executive said on Tuesday.
Marty Coyne, business development director for Lockheed’s air and missile defense business, said he saw “a good chance” that a single foreign provider could be selected by early summer.
“There’s clearly a sense of urgency,” he said.
Coyne, who spoke to Reuters from a defense conference in Slovakia, said Polish concerns about Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the crisis in Ukraine could further accelerate a decision in the Polish competition.
Polish Deputy Defense Minister Czeslaw Mroczek told Reuters in March that the country wanted to choose a winner by the end of the year, which already marked an acceleration from its initial plan to buy a new missile defense system in 2015.
President Barack Obama is due to visit Poland in June as part of a trip that will take him to a G7 summit in Brussels and to France for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.
There are four bidders in the Polish tender: France’s Thales , in a consortium with European group MBDA and the Polish state defence group; the Israeli government; Raytheon Co , and the MEADS consortium led by Lockheed.
MEADS has estimated the tender is worth about $5 billion, but experts say the whole missile defense system could be worth as much as 40 billion zlotys ($13 billion), including maintenance costs. It is to be completed by the end of 2022.
The crisis over Ukraine has deeply unsettled officials in Poland, which fell under Soviet domination after World War Two, but was one of the first countries to shake off Communist rule in 1989.
NATO’s top military commander this month said the alliance must consider permanently stationing troops in parts of Eastern Europe as a result of the increased tension.
Coyne said Lockheed remained convinced the MEADS offer would give Poland the best value: a new missile defense system with 360-degree coverage, and partnership with Italy and Germany, which developed MEADS together with the United States.
The MEADS offer also includes construction of a third plant in Poland to build baseline PAC-3 missiles, besides existing sites in Arkansas and Japan. Coyne said the new plant could then be used to upgrade and recertify 1,000-plus of the PAC-3 missiles already in use by seven countries.
Lockheed also offered to help Poland develop its own long-range missile, which could be fired by the MEADS system against less complex targets like aircraft, Coyne said.
Raytheon, which is the prime contractor for the Patriot missile defense system, argues that Poland should join 12 other countries that are using it. The company says the Patriot system has been heavily modernized to include new digital processors, touch panel screens and portable trainers.
Critics of MEADS say it has not been tested in combat, while the Patriot system has demonstrated it can fire the PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) missiles developed for MEADS. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Ken Wills and Clarence Fernandez)