Lockheed Martin insists that a selection of its Sikorsky S-70M Black Hawk by the UK for its New Medium Helicopter (NMH) competition would open up “incredible export opportunities” for the country, as the airframer prepares to disclose how it will address the social value requirements of the contest.
Although Sikorsky has long been clear on the identity of its NMH contender aircraft, there has been little visibility on how it would build the helicopter in the UK, especially given an existing European assembly line for the S-70 at its PZL Mielec subsidiary in Poland.
But speaking at a reception ahead of next week’s DSEI defence exhibition, Lockheed Martin UK chief executive Paul Livingston said more would be revealed at the event.
Describing the Black Hawk as the “perfect utility helicopter” for the NMH requirement, he says the company will reveal “how our team of UK industry partners” will deliver Black Hawks for the UK as well as addressing “incredible export opportunities”, he says.
The level of UK industrial participation it is proposing is such that Sikorsky will bill the S-70 as the “most British helicopter” in the contest, FlightGlobal understands. Rivals Airbus Helicopters and Leonardo Helicopters are pitching their respective H175M and AW149 platforms, both of which would be built in the UK for the domestic and export markets.
Given the cost advantages of Sikorsky’s existing production line in Poland over whatever it creates in the UK, the airframer is likely to focus on the export potential of certain elements – such as mission systems or sustainment – rather than the bare airframe.
However, the effectiveness of Sikorsky’s strategy to address the social value elements of the contest – which could count for up to 10% – will only be clear once the tender advances.
All three bidders are still waiting for the next stage of the procurement process to get under way, with the serially delayed publication by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) of the so-called Invitation to Negotiate (ITN) now expected in the October timeframe.
However, Whitehall does appear to be making other steps to support the acquisition.
It recently appointed a procurement official to lead the effort, in early August confirming Commodore Jolyon Woodard as senior responsible owner (SRO) for the NMH programme until October 2024; he has held the post on an interim basis since October 2021.
Detailing his responsibilities, the MoD says by the end of his tenure he will have achieved several outcomes including the release of the ITN, secured full approval for the project’s business case, and awarded a contract to the winning bidder. However, the expected timelines for those milestones have been redacted.
The MoD says it plans to acquire “up to 44” helicopters under the NMH programme, although indications are that the eventual quantity will be in the 25-35-unit range.
Separately, Woodard has also been appointed as SRO for the MoD’s Chinook Capability Sustainment Programme, which is seeking to acquire 14 examples of the extended-range variant of Boeing’s heavy-lifter, widely tipped to be the MH-47G model operated by US special forces. In turn, the Royal Air Force will retire the oldest Chinooks in its fleet.
Woodard’s tasks include agreeing a revised delivery profile for the helicopters – a milestone that was meant to have been reached this summer – alongside the submission for approval of a new financial profile for the acquisition, plus capability milestones, by year-end.