The UK Ministry of Defence has reduced its production order for AgustaWestland's Future Lynx and delayed the availability of its two Future Aircraft Carriers (CVF), but has deferred any more drastic budget decisions until next March.
Defence secretary John Hutton says the decision to delay the in-service dates of the Royal Navy's 65,000t CVF was made because "there is scope for bringing more closely into line the introduction of the Joint Combat Aircraft and the aircraft carrier". Lockheed Martin's F-35B Joint Strike Fighter is the UK's favoured candidate for the JCA requirement.
Hutton reaffirmed the UK government's commitment to the Future Lynx project, but AgustaWestland subsequently confirmed that its order has been reduced from 70 airframes, saying that 62 "will initially be procured". Its order now covers the delivery of 34 aircraft to the British Army and 28 to the RN - reductions of six and two aircraft, respectively.
The fuselage for the programme's first flight-test aircraft was delivered to the manufacturer's Yeovil site in Somerset in November, and operations will start from 2014. "We also look forward to working with the MoD to provide the training and support solutions for Future Lynx," it says.
The MoD has meanwhile approved a £70 million ($105 million) upgrade, under which 12 of the army's current Lynx AH9s will have their Rolls-Royce Gem engines replaced by the Future Lynx's CTS-800-4Ns. "This will give commanders more helicopters able to operate effectively all year round in the hot and high altitude in Afghanistan," it says. The first four upgraded helicopters will be returned to use in late 2009, with the remainder to follow in 2010.
Hutton also confirmed plans to deploy Royal Air Force-operated AgustaWestland AW101 Merlin HC3 transport helicopters to Afghanistan next year, "once they have completed their mission in Iraq". An additional £635 million has also been agreed to fund new urgent operational requirement deals to support the armed forces in 2009-10, he says.
Speculation had grown over recent weeks that a funding shortfall could affect several major aerospace projects during the MoD's Planning Round 2009 process, but Hutton's 11 December announcement made no mention of projects such as BAE Systems' Nimrod MRA4 or the Eurofighter Typhoon.
"Any further significant changes to the equipment programme will be announced following the conclusion of the MoD's current planning round in March," says Hutton.