Naval Warfare

Poland Strengthens Naval Defense with Arrival of AW101 Anti-Submarine Helicopter

Polish Navy Leoanrdo AW101 medium-lift helicopter
Polish Navy Leoanrdo AW101 medium-lift helicopter

In a significant leap forward for its naval capabilities, Poland has taken delivery of its first AW101 Merlin anti-submarine helicopters. The new additions will soon undergo final tests and approvals at the PZL Swidnik facility, a subsidiary of Leonardo, before being formally transferred to the Polish Navy. The journey to this milestone began in April 2019, when Poland entered into a contract valued at $430 million for the procurement of four AW101 helicopters. Originally intending to acquire eight AW101s, which would have replaced the aging Mi-14 helicopters stationed at the Dar?owo air base, Poland later revised its plans in 2018, ultimately settling on four units and deferring the acquisition of the remaining four. These newly acquired helicopters are earmarked for deployment within the Polish Navy, specifically to bolster anti-submarine operations. The AW101s are not only dedicated to anti-submarine warfare but also come equipped with a combat search and rescue (CSAR) module, enabling the aircraft to perform critical search and rescue missions.

The Leonardo AW101 Merlin anti-submarine helicopter stands out due to its advanced features, including a low-workload, night vision goggles (NVG)-compatible glass cockpit. This cockpit is complemented by seamlessly integrated communications, navigation, avionics, as well as flight and mission management systems. Furthermore, the AW101’s advantage lies in its spacious cabin, the largest in its class, which can accommodate up to 30 passengers and can be reconfigured to meet diverse customer needs. All four AW101 helicopters are anticipated to be in the hands of the Polish Navy by the close of 2023. This acquisition marks a significant advancement in Poland’s maritime defense capabilities, enhancing its capacity to operate effectively in both anti-submarine warfare and search and rescue missions.

Polish Navy Leoanrdo AW101 medium-lift helicopter
Polish Navy Leoanrdo AW101 medium-lift helicopter. (Photo by PZL-Swidnik)

The Leoanrdo AW101 is a medium-lift helicopter in military and civil use. First flown in 1987, it was developed by a joint venture between Westland Helicopters in the United Kingdom and Agusta in Italy in response to national requirements for a modern naval utility helicopter. Several operators, including the armed forces of Britain, Denmark, and Portugal, use the name Merlin for their AW101 aircraft. It is manufactured at factories in Yeovil, England, and Vergiate, Italy. Prior to 2007, the aircraft had been marketed under the designation EH101. The original designation was EHI 01, from the name given to the Anglo-Italian joint venture—European Helicopter Industries—but a transcription error changed this to EH101. In 2000, Westland Helicopters and Agusta merged to form AgustaWestland, leading to the type’s current designation. In 2016, AgustaWestland was merged into Leonardo S.p.A. (formerly Finmeccanica), where it became the company’s helicopters division under the Leonardo Helicopters brand.

Poland has signed for four Leonardo Helicopters AW101s to be operated by its navy for anti-submarine warfare and combat search and rescue missions. Valued at €380 million ($423 million), the contract for the UK assembled helicopters includes a training and logistics package. Deliveries will run until 2022, says Leonardo. Warsaw in March signed an industrial offset package with the manufacturer worth €90 million. Previous indications were that the country’s naval helicopter requirement would be for up to eight aircraft. Local media has pointed out that under the deal with Leonardo, each AW101 will cost Z412 million ($107 million) against a per-unit cost of Z270 for the H225M.

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