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UK NMH programme will not see helicopters delivered to British Armed Forces until 2027

1st March 2024 - 10:20 GMT | by Norbert Neumann in London


The NMH project was aimed at procuring a single aircraft type fulfilling up to five rotary-wing requirements. (Photo: UK MoD/Crown Copyright)

Airbus, Leonardo and Lockheed Martin have progressed through to the Invitation to Negotiate phase of the New Medium Helicopter competition, but the initial goal of introducing new helicopters by 2025 remained unattainable.

The UK's New Medium Helicopter (NMH) competition will be unlikely to witness rotorcraft delivered to the British services until at least 2027, despite the competitors’ proven capabilities and ongoing manufacturing enhancements.

After several months of delay, the second stage of the NMH programme was announced earlier this week by UK minister for defence procurement James Cartlidge. Airbus, Leonardo and Lockheed Martin UK have now been invited to take part in the Invitation to Negotiate (ITN) phase with proposals evaluated through 2025 when, subject to Government approvals, a contract award was anticipated.

The initially announced schedule for introducing the new rotorcraft into service was 2025, but this timeline appeared highly improbable considering recent developments.

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Adam Clarke, MD of Leonardo Helicopters UK, told Shephard during an interview that the company was “good to go” and it could deliver an aircraft within 24 months of contract award. Airbus and Lockheed Martin did not share specific delivery timelines of their respective helicopters, but assuming they would be similar across the board, the British Army would not see any platform delivered before 2027 at the earliest, regardless of the competition's outcome. 

Lockheed has previously stressed that a victory on its side would pave the way for the UK to participate in the modernisation of nearly 4,000 Black Hawk helicopters sold worldwide. (Photo: Sikorsky/Lockheed Martin)

“While delivery rate depends on the customer’s timeline for acceptance and training, due to Sikorsky’s hot Black Hawk production line, we are well positioned and confident in our ability to meet the requirements specified in the ITN,” a Lockheed Martin spokesperson said. The ITN requirement remained largely confidential and outsiders will not be expected to be able to glimpse the details until at least the contract has been awarded.

The NMH project was set out to procure a modern medium-lift support helicopter capable of fulfilling up to five rotary-wing requirements through a single aircraft type. Airbus pitched its H175, Leonardo offered its AW149, while Lockheed Martin entered the competition with its S-70 Black Hawk.

An upper limit of 44 aircraft had initially been set in November 2021 for the NMH, but Airbus Helicopters said in the middle of July that the UK intended to cap that number at 35. The originally announced number had come into question once again after the UK MoD announced the potential procurement of six Airbus H145 medium-sized helicopters to support defence outputs in Brunei and Cyprus.

“There is no change to the scope of the advertised NMH Contract Notice and Defence remains committed to this programme,” the UK MoD said at the time. Shephard, however, was told by sources wishing to remain anonymous that the number was unlikely to be higher than 35.

Offers and next steps of the UK NMH competition

The three companies will now review the ITN documents and compile their bids to be evaluated by the MoD to determine the winning bidder.

“While we have the ITN, which really becomes the activity to do the bid and to look at all of the elements of it, which is a large activity in its own right, we will continue to build up our capabilities in terms of the training and education of our employees,” Clarke explained.

Lockheed Martin said: “We welcome the publication of the Invitation to Negotiate for the NMH competition and will review its contents over the next few weeks.”

Each contestant has also highlighted what they thought were the strengths of their respective offerings. Lockheed Martin UK said it believed the “Black Hawk is the best solution for UK defence and UK industry, delivering a 100% military helicopter used by and interoperable with 35 allied nations, technology transfer, decades of export potential and over 600 jobs to the UK”.

Leonardo said it would continue to build up its capabilities in terms of the training and education of its employees in preparation for UK NMH. (Photo: Leonardo Helicopters) 

Lockheed has previously stressed that a victory on its side would pave the way for the UK to participate in the modernisation of nearly 4,000 Black Hawk helicopters sold worldwide. Additionally, it would enable involvement in the development and production of the company’s next-generation rotorcraft solutions. Despite the cancellation of the US Army Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) programme, Sikorsky has continued the development of its X2 technology.

Clarke, for his part, noted that the AW149 was built “from a blank piece of paper utilising modern, next-generation technology to develop what we feel is a really competitive military helicopter [and] what we see is a massive export potential for this type of aircraft”. He added that Leonardo anticipated more than 500 opportunities for the sale of the AW149 helicopter if it were to win the NMH competition.

“If selected by the UK,” Airbus said, “the H175M will be made and serviced in Britain by the H175M Task Force – a team of specialists working together to design, manufacture and support the next generation of UK military transport helicopter.

“Design work will be performed in Belfast, it will be made at Broughton in North Wales, and supported in Scotland and at military bases creating hundreds of jobs and helping to drive competition and innovation in the UK helicopter industry. It will act as a catalyst for strong export sales, enhancing the UK’s global reputation and bringing hundreds of millions into the economy.”

Leonardo has also given some details of the activities it will be carrying out in the following months until the contract is awarded. Clarke said that some of the design authorities and design organisations in the UK were “absolutely critical” for the competition.

“We see operational independence and handling things like urgent operational requirements, which we had to do many times over the years,” he added. “Equally, as much as the design part, we need to look at continuing to enhance the elements that are manufactured in the UK, both within Leonardo and equally within the supply chain.

“Then also the assembly, integration and test capabilities, and then a certification…so the whole piece of what it means to be an end-to-end helicopter company that we are here in the UK.”

In a statement, Airbus Helicopters said the H175M was a “high capability, low-risk solution with outstanding technical and safety specifications”, already operating successfully in a range of demanding roles and environments.

“[The H175M] will provide exceptional value for money, with low through-life costs and require minimal training time for pilots due to its cockpit commonality with the Airbus helicopters already used to train all UK military pilots,” the Airbus statement read.

Norbert Neumann


Norbert Neumann

Norbert is the Aviation, Military Training & Simulation reporter at Shephard Media. Before joining Shephard in …

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