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DSEI 2021: Airbus pitches H175M UK production for RAF’s New Medium Helicopter acquisition

10th September 2021 - 18:44 GMT | by Tim Martin in London

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A H175 helicopter undergoes production. (Photo: Airbus)

As competition intensifies across industry to fight it out for the RAF's New Medium Helicopter acquisition, Airbus has announced a compelling production plan.

Dependent on New Medium Helicopter (NMH) programme requirements, still to be published by the UK MoD, Airbus intends on offering and producing the H175M super-medium class helicopter from its Broughton, Wales, facility.

The move would effectively make the manufacturer a second onshore helicopter supplier alongside Leonardo and represents a strong business case for Airbus, bidding to secure the NMH contract ahead of the AW149, the S-70i Black Hawk and Bell’s 525 Relentless.

‘In the validation process that we have been running, which includes [assessing] the best industrial location for production, we selected Broughton because of the benefits it gives us, like access to leading technologies and NMH would be a first helicopter programme to benefit directly from all the commercial, manufacturing and supply chain knowledge from the site,’ said Colin James, managing director of Airbus Helicopters UK.

‘This is not just about fulfilling UK needs for the New Medium Helicopter but fulfilling world market needs for the export of the product [H175M].’

The Broughton production line would be setup specifically to maximise input from regional suppliers, according to James, an obvious sign that the manufacturer wants to take seriously the MoD’s renewed public push on national prosperity and pivot to ending ‘global competition by default,’ reflected in the latest Defence and Security Industrial Strategy.  

On top of that, Airbus sees the sustainability of domestic rotorcraft production to 2050 and beyond as of mutual benefit between the company and government if an NMH agreement were to be signed, as the UK could also go on to secure a favourable workshare arrangement through NATO’s Next Generation Rotorcraft Capability project.

‘That would be good for us, good for the UK supply chain and of course the more cutting edge that product (NGRC) is, then the more successful it is for the nations involved,’ explained James.

He declined to confirm if Airbus would produce or test a H175M prototype to demonstrate capabilities of the helicopter to the RAF ahead of a NMH selection being made, instead focusing on the company’s track record of successfully converting civil airframes into military models.

‘It is the most successful aircraft in its class and we have 26 aircraft operating out of the UK, which shows the credentials of the H175,’ said James.

‘Every single variant we have had has gone on to have a successful militarization.’  

When civil configured H175 platforms contain Chinese components, but the military version on offer to the RAF will not.

As Shephard previously reported, the UK MoD has yet to officially share NMH requirements with industry as it first weighs up a market assessment and considers how to best settle on technology and national security criteria.

A procurement to replace Puma helicopters had long been expected before it was revealed by the MoD’s Defence Command Paper on 22 March 2021, but NMH will also source a successor for Army Air Corps Bell 212, RAF Bell 412 types and Airbus AS365 Dauphins used by Special Forces.

‘From the interactions we have had, our understanding is that a team [from the MoD] was formed after the IR [Integrated Review] to develop requirements which are now well developed…but we don’t know what they are,’ said James.

He suggested that the MoD could set a date of early 2025 for a NMH capability and 2027 or 2028 for an operational or deployable capability.

 

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