This year the international defence and aerospace industry converged on the southern Polish city of Kielce, for the 24th edition of the MSPO exhibition. Targi Kielce was the destination, a rather nondescript exhibition centre on the outskirts of town that somehow still manages to host an arms fair that has ballooned to the third largest in Europe.
And there’s a reason it is now the third largest – Poland is one of the only countries in Europe that is increasing its defence spending (to over 2% of GDP) and splurging cash on big defence projects. That means MSPO is an opportunity for both domestic and international companies to assess first hand what Poland’s defence plans are and, importantly, potentially tap into a lucrative market.
But there are caveats for companies that want to break into the Polish market. Poland, like many developing countries, has strict requirements when it comes to defence procurement, specifically around technology transfer and local manufacturing. Many international companies have discovered that Poland likes to play hard ball when it comes to signing a defence contract – just ask Airbus Helicopters or Raytheon.
Like most years, we attended MSPO to get a glimpse of the new technologies and projects in Poland. Here’s some that took our interest:
Missiles and Air Defence:
If industry was expecting a little more clarity about Poland’s air defence ‘Wisła’ procurement plans, they were likely disappointed. Raytheon has always been the forerunner to provide its Patriot system. Indeed, Poland’s defence minister outlined on the first day that the government was formally submitting a letter of request (LoR) to the US government for the system.
However, during MSPO the government said it was reassessing the rival MEADS system, developed through a joint venture between MBDA and Lockheed Martin, throwing the whole procurement of Patriot into question. Tony Skinner wrote more about the underlying politics and potential future outcomes of the Wisła programme here.
Last year, Poland chose Airbus Helicopters as its preferred supplier of 50 utility helicopters, beating rivals AgustaWestland and Sikorsky. But, much like Wisła, the negotiation phase has been a frustratingly drawn out process, not least because of a change of government last year, which wanted to reassess several defence programmes and spending priorities.
We spoke with Airbus Helicopters CEO Guillaume Faury at MSPO, who said that offset negotiations were now in the ‘final stages’. Those offset arrangements will mean that the Polish H225Ms are assembled in Poland and that the country will also be able to export H225Ms to customers in the future.
Despite a large presence of aerospace companies showing off their attack helicopters, news about the country’s Kruk attack helicopter requirement was less forthcoming.
Despite the inclusion of aerospace companies, and some naval manufacturers, MSPO remains a very land warfare-focused show. This was evident by the large number of vehicles on display both inside the halls as well as outside, many being either new build or upgraded machines. Modernisation appeared to be a key trend, particularly as Poland looks to move away from Soviet equipment and implement NATO-standard kit.
We managed to get more information on Poland’s plans to upgrade 128 of its Leopard 2A4 tanks, sourced from the German Army. The 1980s era tanks are getting a considerable facelift that will include upgraded turret armour, new sensors and electric turret drive system. Those upgrades are being carried out by Polish company Bumar Labedy, with assistance from German manufacturer Rheinmetall.
Polish industry is also proposing an upgrade of the army’s still sizeable stock of Soviet T-72 and upgraded PT-91 tanks. At this year’s MSPO, OBRUM and Bumar Labedy demoed a prototype PT-16 platform, that integrates a new 120mm gun to replace the old Russian 125mm autoloaded gun. OBRUM also displayed a universal modular tracked platform (UMTP) concept, which could replace the Polish Army’s antiquated BWP-1 fleet.
To read all of our MSPO stories from the show click here and to see a round up of all the key events at the show, watch our video here: