Author Archives: Jacek Siminski

AW101 Merlin Helicopter: a Prospective SAR Platform for the Polish Navy?

The Leonardo (AgustaWestland) HH-101 Caesar has been demonstrated in Warsaw. Leonardo Helicopters company starts a marketing campaign in Poland

Leonardo is trying hard to pitch the AW101 Merlin helicopter as a perfect offer for the Polish Navy following the cancellation of the former multi-role helicopter tendering procedure (during which Airbus Helicopters Caracal was indicated as the winning bid).

This is what the demo that took place at the Bemowo/Babice airfield in Warsaw last week seems to suggest.

Considered that the tender was canceled and that the Polish MoD would be inclined to acquire several types instead of a single platform, the presentation of the HH-101A Caesar (a variant of the baseline AW101 advanced medium lift helicopter used by the Italian Air Force for Personnel Recovery, Special Forces Operations support, SAR, MEDEVAC and Slow Mover Intercept) is a clear symptom that the PR campaign concerning the procurement SAR plaftorm for the Polish Navy has just started.

Enjoying strong support by the current government, which is rejecting anything that was done by the predecessors including the selection of Caracal during the previous tender, PZL Świdnik (the biggest helicopter manufacturer in Poland and part of Leonardo-Finmeccanica’s Helicopter Division since 2015) is quite confident that the AW101 has no competition on the market when it comes to the maritime operational regime.

However, some of the statements made by President Krzysztof Krystowski about the Leonardo helicopter are at least inaccurate, as duly noted by Interia.pl’s Sławomir Zagórski.  For instance, Krystowski said that the Italian helicopter is 20 to 30 years younger than its competitors, even though the AW101, on which the more modern Caesar is based, made its maiden flight on Oct. 9, 1987, about 10 years before the Sikorsky’s S-92, which is considered a competitor of the Merlin in the global market (although S-92 is not offered in the Polish tender as of now, only the SH-60, designed at the end of the 1970s, is being offered according to the reports).

Nonetheless, it cannot be negated that the AW101 is a great, capable and specialized maritime helicopter.

The aircraft is very safe, since it utilizes 3 engines, contrary to its counterparts proposed by other manufacturers, which are equipped with 2 engines. Two engines are running during a normal flight, while the third acts as a reserve.

Moreover, its size allows the AW101 to carry up to 30 persons onboard, making it a perfect platform for SAR operations (and not only…). For this reason, the Merlin is operated by several air arms around the world, including the Italian Navy, the Royal Navy, Royal Danish Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Portuguese Air Force and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. Noteworthy, a Merlin variant, designated VH-71 Kestrel, was developed and manufactured in the US by a consortium headed by Lockheed Martin to serve in the US presidential transport fleet but the program was cancelled.

Therefore, it’s safe to say that the AW101 and its variants, with proven experience over the North Sea, in the Arctic or over the Atlantic certainly has features that make it a perfect solution, in the specific field of applications – maritime SAR ops in adverse weather conditions.

On the other hand, the W-3 Anakonda helicopters operated by the Polish Naval Aviation Brigade  are capable of picking up only 2 casualties at sea and are very sensitive to adverse weather, whereas the Mi-14 Hazes, also used by the Polish Navy, are expected to be withdrawn from service soon, for safety/maintenance reasons.

But pilot shortage could be an ever greater issue for the Polish Navy than the helicopters’ obsolescence.

Back in January, three Mi-14 pilots, including two commanders who had credentials required to fly the helicopter in adverse weather, retired. Along with them, two rescuers, engineer and some other members of specialized personnel – 23 soldiers in total – have left the unit, facing a prospect of cuts in the area of retirement benefits, expected to be introduced by the government. Only one and a half of the Mi-14 crew still serves in the Polish Naval Aviation Brigade, as Zagórski was told by the Navy officials. One should also remember that Mi-14PŁ/R helicopters are also coming near the end of their operational lifetimes, with one expected to be withdrawn by the end of this year, and the other having its service life expectancy one year longer. As we were writing last year, the Mi-14 cannot be replaced with the W-3 Anakonda helicopter, due to weather limitations imposed on the latter.

Anyway, the possible procurement of the Leonardo helicopter praised by the service and supported by the government has also been criticised by some analysts.

There is someone who questioned whether Poland would require such a helicopter, considered the current platforms being flown and the fact that the new chopper may turn out to be barely affordable for Warsaw.

The size also has raised some concern, since 14,600 kilograms of maximum take-off weight make would make the AW101 unable to operate from landing pads of the ships of the Polish Navy. This would also limit the ASW (Anti Submarine Warfare) capabilities of the new asset: for this reason the MTOW (Maximum Take Off Weight) requirement within the former tender was limited down to 10.5 tonnes. What is more, the high MTOW of the AW101 does not translate into higher payload carrying capacity, which is comparable with the helicopters of the 10 tonnes-class. This is caused by additional load imposed by the third engine and a larger main gearbox.

Furthermore, there is the issue of cooperation between the Polish MoD and the Leonardo-owned PZL Świdnik facility. The sailors of the Naval Aviation Brigade doubt whether the facility could cope with delivering the AW101, seeing it struggle with maintaining the W-3WA Anakonda rescue helicopters. The first of the aircraft which underwent maintenance and overhaul works at Świdnik has been returned with one year of delay. This contributes to a prospect of a crisis in the Polish SAR units – as Mi-14s are being withdrawn, and W-3s are still in Świdnik, the equipment available would be simply insufficient to maintain proper capabilities along the coast, as we reported last year.

Anyway, since the procurement is defined by the Polish MoD as being of principal importance for the national security, it has been made confidential. Hence the bidding information remains unavailable publicly. This issue has been criticized by General Waldemar Skrzypczak one of the generals who were dismissed from the Army back in December – Polish General Command has suffered from a “purge”, with most of the top officers resigning from service, following the dismissal of General Miroslaw Rózański, General Commander of the Armed Forces.

The claims suggest that confidentiality would make it easier for the government to hide the per unit cost of both the AW101 and any other contender making it impossible to compare the chosen SAR helicopter with those selected in former tender, where 50 Caracals were to be acquired for a gross amount of PLN 13.3 billion, along with proper offset arrangements (training, maintenance and logistical capabilities established in Poland).

Leonardo said that the helicopters could be delivered in two years from the signing the potential procurement agreement.

Update: reportedly the Italian HH-101A Caesar helicopter presented in Warsaw was forced to perform an emergency landing at Dubnica airport in Slovakia on its way back to Italy, after two out engines lost power/suffered an unspecified failure. The aircraft landed safely on the third engine and the crew is waiting in Slovakia for the spares to be delivered. A photo of the aircraft on the ground was published on the Airplane-Pictures network.

Images: Foto Poork’s Wojciech Mazurkiewicz and Filip Modrzejewski

Salva

Salva

Polish F-16s prepare to take part in NATO Baltic Air Patrol mission for the very first time

Poland is about to support the air policing mission over the Baltic States.

The Polish Air Force is to commit some of its F-16 jets to the NATO BAP (Baltic Air Policing) operation beginning in May.

This is going to be the first time long-term deployment to Lithuania for the Polish Vipers: so far, Poland has contributed to the mission with the venerable MiG-29 Fulcrum jets.

Pilots and soldiers of the 31st Airbase of Krzesiny (in the vicinity of Poznan) are going to be tasked with operating four F-16 airframes during the BAP mission. Furthermore, as Polska Zbrojna reports, the operation is going to have a very joint and expansive character, since the deployment is to include personnel of the Łask 32nd AB (which is the second base hosting the Polish Air Force’s Lockheed jets), navigators and air traffic controllers, weather specialists, Polish military Police, as well as intelligence and counterintelligence servicemen.

This is the first time that the Polish F-16 replaced the Soviet-era Fulcrums in the Baltic Air Policing task. A few years back, doubts were voiced, as to why the F-16 could not deployed in the Baltics, ranging from cost considerations, to FOD damage risk.

It seems that tape M6.5 update, recently implemented, was required to have the jets deployed.

It is interesting to notice a change in the Polish F-16’s engagement doctrine: along with operating in the “recce role” against ISIS in the Middle East, they will also support BAP from Lithuania.

If you want to find out more about the Polish F-16 aircraft, check out our feature article published last year.

The “Orlik” Deployment is going to be stationed at the BAP MOB (Main Operating Base) in Šiauliai. Intelligence and ATC officers and navigators are going to be stationed at the control and recce center of Karmelava.

The Polish rotation is going to last from May 1 to Aug. 31, with the Polish pilots of the Krzesiny AB carrying out the QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) and air policing duties. Deployment of the forces is going to begin in late April, and it is going to be preceded with “Orlik-17” exercise, planned in Poland.

This is the seventh Polish rotation in support of Baltic Air Policing operation, with the Poles now taking over the responsibilities from the Dutch RNlAF pilots flying the F-16 fighter aircraft, who have been on duty in Lithuania since Jan 5, 2017.

The first ever Polish deployment took place back in 2006. The mission has been carried out since 2004, when Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia asked NATO to provide air assets to protect their airspace.

Image Credit: Wojciech Mazurkiewicz

 

Polish F-16s have received the first AGM-158 JASSM low observable standoff air-launched cruise missiles

Polish Air Force Receives the First Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles.

Based on the photographs taken by Cpt. Krzysztof Nanuś of the 31st Airbase in Krzesny, and subsequent publication of the aforesaid imagery by Bartosz Kownacki, Polish Deputy Minister of Defense, Poland has already received the first AGM-158 JASSM missiles.

Just recently, in December, a contract concerning the acquisition of the extended range AGM-158B variant has been signed.

As Dziennik Zbrojny notes, the blue stripes visible on the missiles depicted by the photographs suggest that the ordnance presented is inert. More importantly, the release probably refers to deliveries related to the contract signed by the former government, back in 2014.

There was no mention of the modernization of the F-16 jets in the release though. The MLU program in question assumes that the Polish F-16 software suite would be upgraded from the 4.3 up to the M6.5 variant. The upgrade integrates new armament, Link 16 net-centric suite, IFF system and updates and modifies the AIDEWS defensive suite.

Moreover, the new software also implements simulation capabilities and, finally, allows the jets to use the modified SniperXR targeting pods, as Mariusz Cielma of Polish media outlet Dziennik Zbrojny reports.

AGM-158A missiles are expected to achieve initial operational readiness, within the Polish Air Force, in March this year.

Poland currently operates 48 Vipers in the Block 52+ variant. The JASSMs will significantly increase the their strike capabilities:  the large, stealthy long-range weapon is able to destroy targets at distances of 370 km (ca. 220 miles). This allows the Viper to destroy the target outside of the SAMs (Surface to Air Missiles) envelope, which is a major step in comparison to the current Polish A2G armament which has a maximum range of 70km.

The AGM-158 has been used by the Americans since 2003 and it is one of the most modern missiles in the world. The new missile uses its inertial navigation and GPS (global positioning systems) to find its target, and an infrared seeker for pinpoint accuracy right before impact.

Image Credit: Cpt Krzysztof Nanuś via Bartosz Kownacki’s TT account

 

Boeing 747-400 on a DoD mission lands at Poznan airport for the first time in history, bringing 300 US troops to Poland.

An Atlas Air Boeing 747-400 on “a military passenger charter flight” for the U.S. Defense Department’s (DoD) landed for the first time at the Polish airport of Poznan.

An Atlas Air B747, operating for the Pentagon, was used to transport more than 300 US soldiers to Poznan, in western Poland, on Jan. 11, 2017.

The soldiers were then transported to Żagań, Świętoszów, Skwierzyna and Bolesławiec from Poznan by buses, while the jet later flew to Wrocław, transporting some of the troops to an alternate destination.

Noteworthy, this was the very first time that the iconic Boeing’s airliner landed at the Poznan Ławica Airport.

According to the soldiers speaking to the press, the weather in Poland now is similar to the one in Colorado, except for more humidity and milder winds.

Originally, the Jumbo Jet was to land in Poznan (flying from Colorado Springs) on midday, however, due to bad weather it arrived at the Polish airport (with a stopover in Frankfurt) around 4.50 AM at night.

The troop transport carried out by the Atlast Air, one of the largest carriers of air cargo for the U.S. military, is part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, whose aim is to provide support and reinforcement on the NATO Eastern Flank threatened by Russia since the Ukrainian crisis.

The U.S. units deployed to Poland include medics and CRBN specialists, as well as the communications experts.

The Aviationist had a chance to be at the Ławica airport in Poznan at the night of the Boeing’s arrival, which has been possible thanks to the Airport’s marketing team. Many thanks go to Witold Łożyński, who hosted us at the departures.


Image credit: Jacek Siminski

This video shows the Polish MiG-29 Fulcrum air display at RIAT from inside the cockpit

Here’s How The RIAT Display of the Polish Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrum Looked Like “From the Office.”

In this video, you can watch, from the inside, the display routine performed by the Polish Air Force pilot Adrian Rojek during the RIAT 2015 at RAF Fairford in the UK.

The clip includes the high-performance take-off and other maneuvers that are peculiar to the Fulcrum, such as the famous tailslide.

Even though the Fulcrum is gradually becoming obsolete, it is still an agile airframe with a quite impressive flight envelope.

Despite its age, the Polish Air Force MiG-29 has become a desirable attendant of the RIAT show, thanks to the vertical take-off routine included in the display, which is beyond spectacular. The video shows this maneuver from the perspective of the “driver.”

Notably, the video also provides an insight into the effort that is required to perform such aerobatics in a fast jet.

 

Salva