Polish Naval Aviation Brigade operates four SH-2G helicopters that are based onboard the OHP-class Frigates – ORP Gen. K. Pułaski and ORP Gen. T. Kościuszko. These aircraft date back to the early 1990s. Poland, Egypt and Peru remain the sole users of the helicopter now.
Wojciech Skurkiewicz, Deputy Head of the Polish Ministry of Defence, stated that “works have begun, with regards to the most used helicopters, the goal of which would be to define the options that would extend the airframe lifetime norms, which would make it possible for the military to use those aircraft.”
The situation is most urgent when it comes to maintaining the SH-2G helicopters that, even though they have used up their ultimate lifetime in 50%, will have to be withdrawn, as the manufacturer no longer provides support for the aircraft.
The Deputy Minister added that withdrawal of the ship-based helicopters is planned to happen “during the upcoming years”. No lifetime specification has been defined for these aircraft, and they are operated on the basis of their technical status.
Skurkiewicz did admit that acquisition of new ship-based ASW helicopters is the most urgent task that exists now. He also stated that, as the manufacturer ceased to provide technical support for the SH-2G, it is planned to replace these rotary-winged assets with four new helicopters. These are to be acquired within the framework of the acquisition procedure, the goal of which is to procure new naval helicopters that would fit both the ASW, as well as the CSAR role.
The Ministry has two procurement processes open now, pertaining to helicopters. The Polish military is looking forward to acquiring 8 CSAR platforms for the special operations component (with optional purchase of another 4 aircraft planned in the future), as well as four CSAR/ASW aircraft for the Polish Navy. According to the statements made by the former MoD leadership, the special operations component was the first to have the relevant procurement procedure finalized. After the previous Minister of Defence was removed from service in January 2018 (Antoni Macierewicz was dismissed and Mariusz Błaszczak became his successor), all of the above plans have been indefinitely delayed. No new information pertaining to that matter have been released on Thursday at the Parliament, despite the questions asked by the opposition.
Meanwhile, the land-based Mi-14PŁ platform is the only ASW asset used by the Polish military, alongside the SH-2Gs. The Polish Naval Aviation Brigade has eight aircraft as such at its disposal. Lifetimes of half of the aforementioned helicopters manufactured back in 1980 would come to an end this year. The second half, manufactured in 1983, could be operated until 2021.
It is planned to extend the Mi-14PŁ lifetimes, on the other hand. This is to happen once an analogous process is finalized with regards to two Mi-14PŁ/R platforms, that were customized to act in a maritime SAR role. One of the aircraft is currently having its lifetime extended at the Łódź-based WZL-1 facility. The operation in question is to be finalized in September. Another Mi-14PŁ/R is to undergo a similar procedure afterwards. Lieutenant-Commander Marcin Braszak, who is the spokesperson for the Navy Aviation Brigade, told us that only after this happens, a decision is going to be made with regards to the sequence and timeline pertaining to overhauls of the remaining aircraft.
Kruk – Finalization Expected after 2022
Skurkiewicz said on Thursday that the MoD is planning both to overhaul and modernize the existing helicopter fleet. The Ministry is also willing to acquire new aircraft. The Deputy Minister confirmed that modernization (limited within its scope, one should note) is also being planned with regards to the Mi-24 attack platform. Also, within the framework of the Kruk programme, new attack helicopters are to be procured. Nonetheless, Skurkiewicz said, the new attack helicopters are planned to be procured after the year 2022.
The Ministry is also planning to overhaul the Mi-17, Mi-8 and W-3 transport helicopters, which would secure the military vertical lift capabilities for the upcoming decade. W-3 Anakonda helicopter fleet also undergoes modernization. SW-4 Puszczyk and Mi-2 platforms are going to be overhauled too. Light training helicopters are a subject of the tender, the goal of which is to provide the Polish Air Force Academy with relevant assets. In total, PLN 4.7 billion is expected to be used to cover the aforesaid programmes until 2022, Skurkiewicz said.
The Parliamentary debate also exposed some statistical data pertaining to rotary-winged aviation of the military. At the moment the Polish Armed Forces operate more than 200 helicopters of a wide variety of types and used for varied purposes: as airlift, strike, rescue, reconnaissance and training assets. On average the lifetimes of the helicopters have been used up to a degree above 70%, while availability has been defined at the level of 75%.