UK signs new Merlin support deal as transfer plans progress

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AgustaWestland has received the latest instalment from a planned 25-year availability-based support arrangement linked to the UK's air force and navy fleets of AW101 Merlin helicopters.

Worth about £570 million ($910 million), the new five-year deal forms part of the company's Integrated Merlin Operational Support (IMOS) agreement with the UK Ministry of Defence. This came into effect in 2006, when it was valued at a potential £2.2 billion.

As well as supporting operations with Royal Air Force Merlin HC3/3A transports and Royal Navy Merlin HM1 anti-submarine warfare/multi-mission helicopters, the IMOS deal covers "depth" maintenance and RN training activities at the latter's Culdrose air base in Cornwall.

royal navy hm1 merlin, agustawestland
 © AgustaWestland

"Working as a single partnered team, AgustaWestland and the Merlin project team have delivered major support cost savings while enhancing aircraft availability" during the IMOS programme's first five years, says Graham Cole, the company's managing director.

Meanwhile, the UK's Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) organisation is still assessing a proposal to transfer 25 of the RAF's Merlin HC3/3As to replace the RN's current Sea King HC4 amphibious support helicopters. Outlined in the UK government's Strategic Defence and Security Review last December, the idea is "subject to the appropriate approvals being obtained", says DE&S.

Potentially happening from around the middle of this decade, the transfer would involve the current RAF aircraft receiving modifications for embarked operations, such as a tail-fold enhancement already used on RN examples. The planned Mk 4-standard aircraft could also receive cockpit modifications already being embodied as part of the latter's Merlin Capability Sustainment Plus programme, sources say. A decision on whether to approve the proposed move is expected during 2011, they add.