AgustaWestland is to upgrade at least 30 of the UK Royal Navy’s current 42 EH101 Merlin HM1 multi-mission helicopters following its receipt of an approximately £400 million ($710 million) contract on 12 January.
Contained within a £750 million Merlin Capability Sustainment Programme (CSP) deal awarded to prime contractor Lockheed Martin UK, the work will include the integration of new avionics, communications and navigation equipment, a new open architecture mission system and fly-by-wire controls. To be conducted at AgustaWestland's Yeovil site in the UK from 2010, the modifications will also improve the detection capabilities of the Merlin’s BAE Systems Blue Kestrel maritime search radar.
The UK defence ministry expects the upgrade, which also contains an option to modernise a further eight aircraft, to deliver cost reductions of around £575 million through the removal of system obsolescence and a reduction in support costs. The project will “enable the cost-effective management of obsolescence on an aircraft which has components and design features that are becoming difficult to support”, it says. The deal also reflects the objectives of the UK’s recently published Defence Industrial Strategy white paper, which seeks to safeguard national capabilities across strategically important industry sectors including rotorcraft manufacturing and support.
The CSP-standard Merlin is scheduled to enter service in December 2013, with the RN expecting to operate the type until 2029. The service received 44 Merlin HM1s between 1998 and 2002 for anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare duties.
CRAIG HOYLE / LONDON