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Future requirements and negotiations to decide UK NMH fleet total

14th December 2021 - 16:45 GMT | by Tim Martin in Belfast

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A RAF Puma HC2 flies over Kabul, Afghanistan, in support of Operation TORAL. (Photo: Crown Copyright)

The UK MoD is still to decide on the exact number of aircraft to order under the New Medium Helicopter programme — but there is little room for delay.

The UK MoD has told Shephard that it will only settle on an exact number of aircraft for its New Medium Helicopter (NMH) acquisition once future requirements have been decided and commercial negotiations conclude.

A NMH draft plan released on 11 November stated that the UK wants to buy between 36-44 aircraft — funded at £1 billion ($1.34 billion) — a procurement that has witnessed interest from UK-based and international manufacturers alike.

Airbus UK and Leonardo had been the only two manufacturers to officially confirm which aircraft they were offering for NMH up to 13 December, when Sikorsky announced in a company statement that it would be pitching a helicopter based on the S-70M Black Hawk.

‘In responding to the UK MoD’s request for information, the Sikorsky team has acknowledged the requirement to maximise social value and is confident of meeting UK needs by delivering its proposal in cooperation with UK-based companies involved in manufacturing, training and through-life support of the aircraft,’ noted the statement.

Such an approach could have also been taken to counter potential competitive disadvantages associated with an export variant of the S-70M or S-70i being produced or completed in Poland and exported by PZL Mielec, set against Airbus UK and Leonardo offering to produce the 7t H175M from Broughton and the AW149 multirole helicopter from Yeovil, respectively.

Boeing also responded to the NFH RfI. While it has not yet disclosed which aircraft it will offer, the MH-139 Grey Wolf appears to be an obvious candidate. 

‘We look forward to learning more about the Ministry of Defence’s New Medium Helicopter programme,’ said a Boeing UK spokesperson in a 14 December statement.

A Bell official told Shephard that the company 'continues to engage directly with the UK Ministry of Defence' and 'remains interested in supporting the UK with [a] genuine next-generation capability'.

Asked how many replies the RfI has attracted so far, an MoD spokesperson said that the tender process is 'still ongoing', adding that the ministry 'will not be offering a running commentary on the process or selection of preferred bidder'.

The NMH programme has been designed to identify a successor to the RAF Puma HC2 fleet, as well as the Army Air Corps Bell 212s, RAF Bell 412s and SOF Airbus AS365 Dauphins.

The speed with which the MoD has executed NMH leaves little room for delay if it is to award a production contract to a chosen competitor and introduce new helicopters to service from 2025, which is the official retirement date for Puma.

‘No disposal agreements have yet been made regarding the Puma helicopters earmarked for retirement,’ noted Jeremy Quin, UK minister for defence procurement, in a 26 July written statement to parliament.

This article was amended on 15 December to include a statement from Bell

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