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Poland to negotiate Patriot missile defense system with US, test Airbus helicopters

Poland has scheduled talks with the US over a Patriot missile deal, while its military plans to test Airbus helicopters. Poland's desire to upgrade its defenses has been spurred by the conflict in neighboring Ukraine.

Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak would head to the US in May for exclusive talks with Washington about a multibillion-euro air defense missile contract.

"The government has chosen to decide the matter of the Wisla [air defense] program through direct negotiations with the US government," Komorowski said.

A system by the Eurosam consortium - including MBDA France, MBDA Italy and France's Thales Group - was in the running alongside US company Raytheon's Patriot system for the deal, worth an estimated 5 billion euros ($5.4 billion).

"The US offer is regarded as the most advantageous from the viewpoint of Polish security and fulfilling alliance [NATO] obligations," Poland's Defense Ministry said, according to news agency AFP. The ministry spokesperson added that Patriot systems were used in more than a dozen countries.

The Defense Ministry wants to acquire eight missile batteries by 2025, with two of them to be delivered within three years of signing the contract.

Helicopters chosen for testing

While looking to the US for missiles, Poland has turned to Europe for helicopters. Komorowski also told reporters that Warsaw has chosen multipurpose Airbus helicopters for testing as the country looks to replace its Soviet-era military fleet.

While Poland had previously said it would buy 70 helicopters, it was announced Tuesday that the order would be reduced to 50. US manufacturer Sikorsky and the British-Italian group AgustaWestland had also been in the running.

The purchases are part of NATO member Poland's effort to upgrade its military equipment over the next 10 years, to the tune of about 35 billion euros ($37 billion).

The revamp has been sped up in light of

Warsaw's concerns and tensions with Russia

about the situation in neighboring Ukraine, where Russia annexed Crimea and pro-Russia separatists have been fighting Kyiv's forces in the country's east for the past year.

se/cmk (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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