On 30 May 2018, a ceremony of signing a contract for the purchase of Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk International helicopters for the Polish Police took place in PZL Mielec. This event is important for several reasons – it will be, in fact, the first brand new helicopters purchased in nearly 20 years, and in addition to that, they may initiate an extensive project of generational replacement of aviation equipment of Polish Ministry of the Interior, one of several ministries possessing their own helicopters.
Formally, the Police Aviation Force started its activity on 9 May 2001, when the reform process was completed. Although most of the equipment was not new at the time of handover, nothing had been done to improve the situation with the available equipment for many years. On the contrary, the number of helicopters has gradually started to decrease by being withdrawn from service due to the run-down of service life. What is more, police tiltrotors are used not only for tasks to be handled by the abovementioned service, but also to support others – among their most spectacular achievements there are: extraction of workers’ corpses from the chimney of the Kozienice power plant, participation in the aid for the victims of floods in the southern part of the country, and support given to TOPR (Tatra Mountains Volunteer Rescue Service). Unfortunately, despite several technical modernization projects (including the National Helicopter Program, the Police Modernization Act of 2007), the only successes have been: purchase of the used Bell 206B JetRanger III as well as transfers of used helicopters from the Ministry of Defence (Bell 412HP) and the Border Guard (W-3 Sokół and Mi-2). Interestingly enough, many government documents from the turn of the century pointed to the need for a purchase of new helicopters, including medium multi-purpose one, to fill the gap after the withdrawn Mi-8S, replace the Mi-8T (planned to be withdrawn in 2017-18), and expand the operational potential.
At the turn of the year, the police tried to purchase new helicopters, which was related to the decrease in the number of assets at disposal – three Mi-2s were to be withdrawn by the end of 2019, when the service life is to expire. They were to be succeeded by light multi-purpose machines – the tender was launched on 21 November and the bids were opened on 9 April. It turned out then that the only offer (Heli Invest) significantly exceeded the assumed budget (PLN 77.2 million gross, while the police planned to spend PLN 53 million). As expected, on 20 April the procedure was cancelled – one of the reasons for such a response from the industry was the fact that the police required the delivery of equipment by the end of the year, which was difficult to reconcile by manufacturers and companies representing them in the domestic market.
In the following days, the first information about the intention to buy the S-70i Black Hawk International appeared – interestingly, it came from the Lockheed Martin, which started looking for employees to support the police staff in the operation of the helicopters. On 9 May the matter was dealt with by the Sejm’s Committee on Administration and the Interior. During its meeting, Deputy Minister Jarosław Zieliński informed about the status of the works on the purchase of five observation and patrol tiltrotors for the police – three single-engine and two double-engine units. The tendering procedures are due to be announced later this year, but the deliveries are scheduled for 2020 – everything depends on the Ministry of Finance’s agreement on the implementation of the multiannual program. In addition, the Committee confirmed its intention to purchase two S-70i Black Hawk International, as a comparative analysis showed that only this type of helicopter met all the (classified) needs of the BOA – Polish Police main counter-terrorism unit, i.e. the main administrator of medium transport tiltrotors operated by the police. Negotiations with the manufacturer started on 11 April, and on 13 April a notification of a non-bidding nature of the purchase was sent to the president of the public procurement office. According to the assessment of Superintendent Jarosław Szymczyk, the manufacturer’s offer is “very attractive” and additionally includes a training and service package. Pilot training will take place abroad, first in a simulator (10 hours) and second in a helicopter (approximately 10 hours). With two S-70i Black Hawk International being used by Sikorsky to train pilots at the factory training center in Stuary, it is likely that the police pilots will be sent to Florida to complete the cycle. Later, the training will be run in the country. Two pilots, under the agreement signed, are to be granted the right to conduct test flights. The entire pilot training cycle is expected to take approximately two months. Technical staff will undergo their training abroad, which will take approximately three weeks. The first training cycle is expected to start in July.
On 28 May, there was a session at the National Appeals Chamber devoted to the appeal lodged by Airbus Helicopters against the conduct of the Police Headquarters concerning the purchase of two S-70i Black Hawk International without tender. The final verdict of the Appeals Chamber was in favor of the Contracting Authority, as the Chamber decided to reject the appeal pursuant to Article 189, section 2, item 3 of the Public Procurement Law – “The appeal was filed after the deadline specified in the Act”. This in turn opened the way for the signature of the contract, which was concluded on 30 May and amounted to a total gross value of PLN 142.6 million – it was not informed what the entire package, including the rotorcraft, contained. Deliveries will be finished by the end of the year – in addition to supporting the activities of the Bureau of Counter-Terrorism, other services will be able to provide the supplies, provided that the contract provides for installation of additional equipment in the form of a winch or a hoist hook to transfer the basket for fire-fighting agents – unfortunately, the abovementioned questions have not been answered so far.
The two S-70i Black Hawk International police will be the first of the S-70 family to be operated in Europe by law enforcement. So far, they have been used in this role, in the United States, Mexico, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. A few years ago, the Hong Kong withdrew their S-70s, and a growing group of companies have been offering their UH-60s (from US Army surplus) for government use, such as in Australia and South Africa.