April 21, 2015 / 3:16 PM / 5 years ago

Poland to buy U.S. Patriots missiles, picks Airbus helicopters

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland said on Tuesday it would buy Raytheon’s Patriot missiles from the United States and chose Europe’s Airbus utility helicopters for further tests, albeit reducing the size of this potential order.

A multi-role military helicopter EC 725 by Airbus Helicopters is pictured at an international military fair in Kielce, southern Poland in this file picture taken September 2, 2014. Airbus Helicopters' Caracal EC725 has emerged as the front runner in a Polish tender for the supply of 70 multi-purpose helicopters, the newspaper said, without naming its sources. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Files

The choice of suppliers in military contracts, worth an estimated $8 billion (5.34 billion pounds), strikes a transatlantic balance as eastern Europe’s largest economy faces rising tensions with Russia.

“The government has accepted Defence Minister Tomasz Siemoniak’s recommendation on awarding the order of Patriot sets ... to the government of the United States,” the defence ministry said in a statement.

Poland will buy eight batteries of the missiles by 2025, the ministry said, adding that it plans to have acquired the first two batteries within three years of signing the deal.

A consortium of France’s Thales and European group MBDA was also competing for the tender — the largest in Poland’s military history — offering an alternative anti-missile defence system.

In a separate statement, the ministry said it had selected the Caracal EC725 of Airbus Helicopters as its preferred choice in a $3 billion utility helicopter tender, subject to army testing, dropping U.S. and Italian competitors.

It trimmed down the potential order from an original 70 helicopters to 50. This would still represent Poland’s biggest defence acquisition from western Europe since the end of the Cold War.

The ministry said the deal would be signed once technical checks have been completed by the army, with deliveries set to begin as early as 2017.

The helicopter decision is seen as more delicate because the now-dropped rival bidders Sikorsky of the United States and AgustaWestland, owned by Italy’s Finmeccanica, have factories in Poland.

The ministry said that because of “changing security circumstances” it has decided to speed up acquisition of attack helicopters, without giving any further details.

Four companies have expressed interest in supplying Poland with 30 attack helicopters in a deal already brought forward by two years as part of a review of the country’s army modernisation programme in light of the crisis in Ukraine.

Poland, a NATO member since 1999, had accelerated the process to select a supplier for the missile system after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region last year prompted great concern among NATO members in eastern Europe.

Since the end of the Cold War, Poland has usually kept closer defence and security ties with the United States.

But in the past few years policymakers have been lobbying for a stronger security relationship with the rest of Europe, especially after the Obama administration scaled back its missile defence shield plans in eastern Europe.

Editing by Louise Heavens, Tim Hepher and Crispian Balmer

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