WARSAW, Poland – Polish leaders said Monday that the country is buying Polish-made Black Hawk helicopters as it modernizes the army. The announcement comes days after the country scrapped plans to buy 50 French-made military helicopters from Airbus Helicopters for 3.14 billion euros ($3.5 billion), straining ties with Paris.
Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz made the announcement Monday as they visited an aviation factory in Mielec, in southeastern Poland, that was bought several years ago by U.S. producer Sikorsky.
Macieriewicz said that Polish special forces would be able to begin training with the Black Hawks later this year. The modernization of Poland’s army became a pressing matter two years ago when Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine, sparking anxiety across central and eastern Europe.
“I am convinced that thanks to this, Polish technologies will develop and Polish industry will develop,” Macierewicz said. “We’ll be able to say that we are a modern country, and that our army has equipment that ensures that no opponent with threaten us.”
Leaders with the nationalistic ruling Law and Justice party say the deal with Airbus didn’t serve the nation’s best interests.
Szydlo said Monday that the factory that produces Black Hawks, while foreign, employs several thousand Poles and pays taxes in Poland, and that buying those helicopters would be an act of “economic patriotism.”
“It’s important that the military have Polish equipment made by Polish workers,” Szydlo said.
A preliminary deal with Airbus had been sealed by the previous, pro-European ruling party, Civic Platform. Law and Justice, which won elections a year ago, had been skeptical of it, but carried out talks for many months before announcing that the two sides couldn’t agree on an offset deal, which was a major condition for the purchase.
In an offset agreement, the seller of a product or service agrees to invest in sectors or goods on the buyer’s side, as a way of compensating or enhancing the value of the deal. Offset deals usually accompany large deals in the military industry.
Warsaw said that offers made by Airbus Helicopters failed to properly secure Poland’s economic and security interests. Polish officials earlier hinted the value of the offset should approximately match the value of the purchase and should help develop the nation’s defence industry.
French President Francois Hollande cancelled a planned visit to Poland this week in a diplomatic signal of anger in Paris over Warsaw’s handling of the deal.
A previous version of this story has been corrected to show that the deal with Airbus would have been worth more than 3 billion euros, not 3 million euros.