A programme to upgrade the UK Royal Navy's AW101 Merlin multi-mission helicopters is on track to introduce an operational fleet of 30 HM2-standard aircraft by 2014, according to partners AgustaWestland and Lockheed Martin.
Worth £850 million ($1.35 billion), the Merlin Capability Sustainment Plus (MCSP) programme advanced to the flight testing phase late last year, and about 25h have now been logged using the first two test aircraft. Most of the work so far has involved aircraft ZH826, which was returned to flight with its new mission system installed at AgustaWestland's Yeovil site in Somerset on 30 November.
All images © AgustaWestland/Lockheed Martin
By modernising most of the RN's 38 Merlins from their current HM1 standard to the HM2 configuration, the MCSP effort will support the type's planned operational use until 2029. The work is focused on addressing obsolescence issues with major equipment including mission computers, cockpit and operator station displays and acoustics processors.
Although the Merlin's primary mission will remain providing anti-submarine warfare cover for the Royal Navy's surface fleet, its multi-mission capability will be enhanced by the MCSP programme. Once reconfigured, the almost 15t type will be able to carry up to 16 armed troops or 12 stretchers, and will also gain an advanced search-and-rescue location system and improved navigation equipment.
The HM2 is also being equipped with an FN Herstal-supplied M3M 0.50cal machine gun. Stowed inside the cabin's starboard door, the weapon will be fired for the first time in mid-February, says AgustaWestland test pilot Nigel Maggs.
Two additional flight test and instrumented aircraft have already entered conversion work in Yeovil, and the programme's first production example has entered build. The latter is scheduled to be returned to the air in November 2011, and the Ministry of Defence should receive its first modified HM2 in the fourth quarter of next year.
"The programme is half-way through systems integration and we're marching to plan," says Jeff Streznetcky, MCSP programme director for Lockheed Martin UK Integrated Systems. "By the end of the second quarter of 2011, we will deliver full functionality to the test aircraft."
Once at full-rate activity, each production aircraft will take nine to 10 months to pass through the upgrade process, and up to 10 could be in work at any one time, says Streznetcky.
The Merlin HM2 fleet will achieve its in-service date in mid-2013, with full operational capability to be declared in late 2014.