Poland to buy Black Hawks after dropping Airbus choppers

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Warsaw (AFP)

Poland said Monday it would buy Black Hawk helicopters from US defence giant Lockheed Martin, days after it blamed French aeronautics giant Airbus for the breakdown in talks over a multi-billion euro contract for military choppers.

"This week we will open talks... Before the end of the year, the first machines of this kind will be delivered to our special forces for exercises," Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz told reporters.

He did not specify the number of helicopters, nor the exact model or cost.

Macierewicz spoke to reporters while joining Prime Minister Beata Szydlo on a visit to aviation factories in the eastern cities of Mielec and Swidnik that are respectively owned by Lockheed Martin and Italian aerospace and defence group Finmeccanica.

Lockheed Martin subsidiary Sikorsky and Finmeccanica subsidiary AgustaWestland had been Airbus's competitors for the chopper deal that fell apart last week.

On Tuesday, Poland halted talks with Airbus to buy 50 of its Caracal helicopters, casting a chill on bilateral relations and leading French President Francois Hollande to postpone a planned visit to Warsaw.

The deal would have been worth an estimated 3.14 billion euros ($3.51 billion).

Macierewicz claimed at the weekend that "it wasn't the Polish side who broke off the talks... Unfortunately the two sides did not see eye to eye on the offset package."

Offsets are arrangements whereby a supplier of military hardware typically sweetens a deal by setting up a factory in the purchasing country or agrees to place orders with companies there.

Poland's previous liberal government said in 2014 it was planning to buy Airbus choppers as part of a major military upgrade triggered by regional tensions over Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine that year.

But the new right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) administration called the deal into question not long after it took office in late 2015.