The UK Ministry of Defence could be just weeks from determining how to best fill the critical shortfall in its battlefield helicopter capability, with life extension, lease, new-build and secondhand acquisition options still under consideration.
Flight International has meanwhile learned of a Eurocopter proposal to supply the UK with eight ex-Portuguese air force SA330 Puma transports. The offer emerged following Lisbon's rejection of a request to sell several of its new AgustaWestland EH101s to bolster the Royal Air Force's EH101 Merlin HC3 fleet.
An industry source close to the Eurocopter proposal says the secondhand aircraft would be "ideally suited for the hot-and-high demands of Afghanistan", and represent "an appealing package operationally".
Portugal's SA330s were delivered between 1969 and 1974, according to Flight's MiliCAS database, and have Turbomeca Makila engines more powerful than the Turmo systems used by the RAF's current Puma HC1s.
Eurocopter approached the MoD last October to offer the aircraft under a 10-year deal, to also include the provision of spares and a comprehensive logistics support package in conjunction with FR Aviation/Bristow Helicopters joint venture FB Heliservices.
This would be in addition to a five-year contract worth up to £100 million ($197 million) to support the UK's current Puma and Eurocopter Gazelle fleets
Eurocopter in mid-January submitted its final response for the latter requirement, with a contract award expected around June. MoD personnel are meanwhile understood to have flown to Portugal to inspect the secondhand Pumas, which an industry source says could be modified and delivered to the RAF within 12 months of contract signature.
The UK has previously acquired several secondhand Pumas from South Africa to boost its operational inventory of the type, which is currently in use in southern Iraq.
Other solutions being considered by the MoD include purchasing EH101 tactical transports from Denmark returning stored Westland Sea Kings to service and accelerating the acquisition of new medium-lift aircraft. Funding a "fix-to-field" package to bring the RAF's non-operational Boeing CH-47 Chinook HC3s into service, and a potential 10-year commercial lease deal are also options.
An MoD source confirms that a decision on a possible interim helicopter deal could be made within the coming weeks, but declines to provide further details.