WARSAW Poland will move the purchase of 30 attack helicopters forward by two years as part of a review of its army modernisation programme triggered by the crisis in Ukraine, Polish deputy defence minister Czeslaw Mroczek said.
Mroczek told Reuters that the first stage of the procurement process, originally scheduled for 2016, had already started and confirmed that 10 companies have submitted their offers but declined to name them.
"The events in Ukraine are having a clear negative impact on regional and international security and have made us ... realise there was a need for updating our technical modernisation plans," Mroczek said in an interview last week.
"As a result of the review, the plans have been updated byspeeding up the programmes which increase our military's attack force, as well as its deterrence potential," he said.
Polish military experts have suggested Boeing's AH-64 Apache, AgustaWestland's AW-129 Mangusta and Eurocopter's EC-Tiger as potential candidates.
"We will try to have the helicopters ready for combat in 2019 or 2020," Mroczek said. They will replace the worn-out Soviet-era Mi-24s currently used by the Polish army.
Poland, the biggest of the former Communist states to joinNATO after the end of the Cold War, has been a leading voice in calling for sanctions on Russia after it annexed Ukraine's Crimea and for NATO to shift troops and equipment eastwards to reassure members close to Russia as fighting with rebels in eastern Ukraine continues.
Last week, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told Reuters that NATO members were "quite close" to reaching consensus on increasing the alliance's presence in eastern Europe.
Poland is already in the process of purchasing 70 multi-purpose helicopters, with Airbus Helicopters, Sikorsky Aircraft and AgustaWestland competing for the tender. Sikorsky and AgustaWestland already own factories in Poland.
Mroczek said that following "the Ukrainian review", Poland will also speed up the purchases of a second naval strike missile system, a long-range missile launcher and air-to-surface JASSM missiles for its fleet of 48 F-16 fighter jets.
The country is now also looking to buy long-range unmanned attack aircrafts, also known as drones.
Asked about Poland's mid-range missile defence system, Mroczek confirmed the tender will be completed next year. In June, Poland shortlisted U.S. firm Raytheon and a consortium of France's Thales and European group MBDA as potential suppliers of the system.
Mroczek said the role of Polish industry in the contract would be an important factor in choosing the supplier.
"Polish industry's participation, that is, how big a part of the (production of) system will be left to Polish companies, will be an important consideration," said Mroczek.
The companies participating in the final stage of the procurement have said the participation of Polish companies would account for a large portion of the contract.
Mroczek said that the modernisation programme represented "a great opportunity and vast amounts of money, which can transform Polish military technology science, and, above all, the Polish industry."
Poland's Finance Ministry estimates that the country will spend around 130 billion zlotys between 2013 and 2022 on modernising its armed forces. The country already spends 1.95 percent of its GDP on the army, one of the highest rates of military spending in the world.
(Reporting By Pawel Sobczak and Wiktor Szary; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)