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UK’s new medium helicopter to fly into 2040s

By Harry Lye 08 Apr 2021 (Last Updated April 8th, 2021 16:12)

Whichever helicopter the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) selects for its new medium helicopter requirement will likely be in service until the mid-2040s, Army Technology understands.

UK’s new medium helicopter to fly into 2040s
Five RAF Puma helicopters from 33 Squardon. Image: MOD/ Crown Copyright.

Whichever helicopter the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) selects for its new medium helicopter requirement will likely be in service until the mid-2040s, Army Technology understands.

The requirement for a new medium helicopter was first revealed in the UK’s Defence Command Paper and will replace four in-service helicopters including the Puma and Bell 212 with a single platform. The Puma is currently slated to be retired in 2025.

The other two platforms to be replaced have yet to be confirmed, however, speculation is that they will be the Bell 412 and the Dauphin used by the Special Air Service (SAS).

Officially the MOD has yet to release details of the programme, and evaluation of the number of helicopters needed and how long they will be in service is still in progress.

Army Technology understands that the British Army would like to acquire around 45 helicopters, however, this figure will be affected by the affordability of the chosen platform.

It is also understood that 36 platforms is seen as the minimum number of helicopters needed to meet operational requirements.

The potential 2040 out of service date could also be affected by the future potential entry into service of aircraft developed under the US Future Vertical Lift programme if the UK decided to purchase one of the resultant platforms in future.

In July 2020, the US and UK signed a ‘modernisation agreement’ covering both countries’ armies. The plan aimed to cover ‘complementing capabilities’ and included ‘closer affiliation in the development of helicopter capability’ under the US Future Vertical lift programme.

Future Vertical Lift currently covers two different US Army programmes including the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA), to replace the capability gap left by the retirement of the Bell OH-58D Kiowa, and the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) which will replace the UH-60 Black Hawk.

Announcing the plans, the Defence Command Paper reads: “Investment in a new medium-lift helicopter in the mid-2020s will enable a consolidation of the Army’s disparate fleet of medium-lift helicopters from four platform types to one; including the replacement of Puma.”

Under current plans, the chosen helicopter will be operated jointly by the British Army and Royal Air Force (RAF) through the UK’s Joint Helicopter Command.

In a recent news release, the British Army wrote: “Work on this programme is at an early stage with effort primarily focused on developing and refining key user requirements. Details in relation to the procurement strategy, basing locations, fleet size, delivery schedule and organisational structure are all being assessed.”

So far, Leonardo is said to be interested in pitching its AW149 helicopter for the requirement, with a promise to build the helicopters in Yeovil, and Lockheed Martin is reportedly interested in offering its UH-60 Black Hawk.

Leonardo has said it would be able to deliver ‘military off-the-shelf’ AW149 aircraft within 24 months of a potential contract award and could deliver platforms ahead of the Puma’s 2025 retirement.

Promoting its helicopter, Leonardo Helicopters UK managing director Nick Whitney said: “Leonardo stands ready to support the UK Government with its intention to procure a New Medium Helicopter and develop future technologies, including uncrewed systems.

“As we continue to invest in these future battlespace capabilities, it is fantastic to see the vitality of the next generation of engineering innovators and inventors as they begin their careers on our award-winning apprenticeship and graduate schemes.