Polish Special Ops Component Receives S-70i Black Hawk Helicopters

Polish Special Operations Forces receive their Black Hawks

One of the first Polish S-70i. (All images credit: Wojciech Mazurkiewicz/TADO Aviation Photo)

Poland special forces have received four Black Hawks helicopters.

Last Friday, Dec. 20, 2019, Head of the MoD, Mariusz Błaszczak and Polish President, Andrzej Duda, as well as the US Ambassador to Poland, Georgette Mosbacher, participated in an event during which Polish Special Operations Forces received 4 Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk helicopters manufactured at the PZL Mielec facility in Poland, currently owned by Lockheed Martin. The event took place at the 1st Airlift Base in Warsaw.

The agreement, worth PLN 683.4 million (177.5M USD), with the helicopters having a pricetag of 75 million apiece (19.5M USD per helicopter), also includes an equipment package that would tailor the newly acquired platform to the special ops requirements.

The package, as the Polish MoD’s release claims, includes the elements as follows:
1. Night flying systems for flying in IFR conditions
2. Armament and equipment compliant with the SOF requirements
3. Cargo handling equipment
4. MEDEVAC equipment
5. Navigation and datalink systems compliant with NATO requirements
6. ICAO/NATO-compliant navigation systems
7. Crew/helicopter protection system
8. Ground support equipment
9. Logistics supply-chain system
10. Training package.

Polish MoD refrains from releasing any details pertaining to the special-purpose equipment that could be onboard the Black Hawks that would be received by the Polish SOF. Polish analysts and military journalists remain very reserved when it comes to the actual value that the S-70i may add to the inventory of the SOF component.

For the sake of clarity one should mention that S-70i cannot really be compared to the MH-60M platform operated by the 160th SOAR for instance, as the latter weighs 11 tonnes, not 10 tonnes – which places the American aircraft in another weight category. The MH-60M also features more powerful engines (S-70i uses General Electric T700-GE-701D with power output of 2000 HP while the US version features FADEC-enabled General Electric YT706-700 engines, offering power output that is 30% higher). Further differences in appearance of the helicopters include air-2-air refuelling probe, optronic sensors and the MLASS (Multi-Station Armament Support Structure) system allowing them to carry the Hellfire Missiles or Hydra 70 rockets. Finally, as we can see in the imagery, the Polish Black Hawks do not feature any MAWS sensors or countermeasure dispensers that are a bare minimum when it comes to increasing the airframe survivability in an environment saturated with MANPADS. The same applies to optoelectronics. Polish S-70i Black Hawks also do not feature turbine engine exhaust system infrared suppressor system of any kind. We also cannot really compare the avionics suite between the two, as the US helicopter is far more advanced than the S-70i within that regard.

An image of the official handover ceremony of four S-70i Black Hawks to the Polish special forces at the 1st Air Base in Warsaw.

However, the Polish MoD claims that the helicopters would receive extra equipment in the future – hiding behind confidentiality clause not to tell the media as to what the final inventory list may be.

INTERIA.PL‘s Sławomir Zagórski stated the following:

Polish MoD procured helicopters that do not meet the requirements of the mission assigned to the Special Ops component in any kind. Procurement of the S-70i without a tender is a method to introduce the new armament types through the back door.
Another shot of one of the first four S-70i helicopters.

One should note that the acquisition of Black Hawks is another step taken by the Law and Justice (PiS) government in Poland to mitigate the effect of the decision made at the beginning of their first term, namely, to cancel the selection of the H225M Caracal as the common helicopter platform that would be operated across the Polish military. The decision is referred to by most of the opinionmakers and experts as a political one.

Let us recall, the Caracal deal, with a pricetag of PLN 13 billion (3.4B USD), was to cover acquisition of 50 helicopters, with manufacturing capacity to be established in Poland and the offset agreement having a value almost equal to the value of the procurement arrangement. Instead of the above the Polish MoD decided to procure 4 land-based AW101 helicopters for the Polish Navy (too heavy to land on any warship operated by the Polish Navy at the moment – be it the OHP Frigates or the ORP Ślązak OPV) with a pricetag of 1.65 billion zlotys (0.45 billion dollars) and with a qualitatively poor offset agreement that would follow (valued at PLN 400 million/103M USD). Notably, the offset deal associated with the AW101 would include solely the maintenance capability, without any upgrade capacity in the hands of the Polish industry. Acquisition of the 4 S-70i Black Hawks mentioned above is the last item on the procurement list so far.

The journalists working in the field in Poland share the general opinion that the new approach adopted by the MoD, with micro-fleets emerging and quite unreasonable procurement policy adopted, is less than optimal, also suggesting that the acquisition is rather aimed at satisfying the trade unions of facilities in Mielec (Lockheed Martin) and Świdnik (Leonardo), with the Armed Forces’ requirements being disregarded. INTERIA.PL‘s Zagórski also added that “creating micro-fleets complicates the logistics and drives the unit prices and maintenance prices up, to an unreasonable level.

About Jacek Siminski
Standing contributor for TheAviationist. Aviation photojournalist. Co-Founder of DefensePhoto.com. Expert in linguistics, Cold War discourse, Cold War history and policy and media communications.