Poland invites defense firms to talks on buying army helicopters

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WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland’s defense ministry has invited Airbus, Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky unit and Leonardo-Finmeccanica for talks about buying army helicopters worth about 1 billion zlotys ($254 million), the ministry said on Tuesday.

The invitations were issued after Poland scrapped earlier this month a preliminary deal with Airbus to buy 50 Caracal multi-role helicopters for 13.5 billion zlotys ($3.4 billion) after prolonged negotiations.

Sikorsky and Leonardo’s AugustaWestland had initially also taken part in that tender. Both produce helicopters at Polish plants in the cities of Mielec and Swidnik respectively.

“The talks concern buying helicopters in the framework of an urgent operational need declared by the armed forces of the Republic of Poland,” acting defense ministry spokeswoman Beata Perkowska said.

Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz told wSieci weekly earlier this week that the framework of a so-called urgent operational need allowed the ministry to hold talks with a chosen contractor without the need to announce a new tender.

It was not clear how the talks announced on Tuesday would impact an earlier announcement from the ministry that it would buy at least two Black Hawk helicopters from Sikorsky this year and a further eight next year.

Macierewicz was also quoted as saying earlier this week that the ministry needed to urgently spend the money earmarked for helicopters in its budget at a time of tensions with Russia, as otherwise access to the funds could be lost.

The decision to scrap the earlier preliminary deal with Airbus angered France and led to a cancellation of the French president’s visit to Poland earlier in October.

Polish officials said they did not receive acceptable proposals from Airbus over local investments, while Airbus’s chief executive accused Poland of misleading the company during negotiations.

Reporting by Marcin Goettig and Pawel Florkiewicz; Writing by Marcin Goettig; Editing by Mark Potter