Royal Navy begins process to replace Sea King Commando

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The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is considering a replacement for the Royal Navy Westland Sea King HC4 Commando assault helicopter under the auspices of the Future Amphibious Support Helicopter (FASH) project.

The MoD is looking to introduce a replacement for the HC4 into service around 2008, according to sources close to the procurement. The two most likely con- tenders to meet Staff Target (Sea) 6845 are the EH Industries (GKN Westland/Agusta) EH101 Merlin and the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor.

With the Merlin selected as the RN's Sea King anti-submarine-warfare replacement, GKN Westland will argue the benefits of fleet commonality. In support of the V-22, Bell Boeing is likely to point to the similarity in requirement to that of the US Marine Corps.

The Navy is also looking at a future organic airborne-early-warning (AEW) aircraft to replace its Sea King AEW2 helicopters. GKN Westland and Bell Boeing are proposing AEW variants of the Merlin and Osprey, respectively.

The MoD is believed to be working towards the release of a request for information by mid-year as the Ìrst step toward running a competition to select the FASH winner. The requirement could lead to an order for more than 30 helicopters, and the future organic AEW project would add up to a further ten to this number.

While GKN Westland is considering offering a hybrid lift derivative of the Merlin for the future AEW programme, it is not known whether it will also be offered for the FASH, given the tighter timescales for the service introduction of the latter. The programme calls for an in-service date of 2012.