Lockheed Martin appears to be on the verge of walking away from the UK’s New Medium Helicopter (NMH) contest without submitting the Sikorsky S-70M Black Hawk for the final stage of the procurement.

Despite being one of the frontrunners for the competition, multiple sources have told FlightGlobal that the US defence giant does not intend to submit a final proposal for NMH.

Black Hawck-c-SoosJozsef_Shutterstock

Source: Shutterstock

Lockheed Martin has pledged to assemble Black Hawks in Gosport if selected

Launching the invitation to negotiate (ITN) stage of the acquisition in February, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) set a 30 August deadline for the receipt of final offers.

Lockheed declines to address the issue directly, simply saying that it “continues its dialogue on the invitation to negotiate with the Ministry of Defence”.

If Lockheed opts not to proceed, then NMH would become a two-way fight between the Airbus Helicopters H175M and Leonardo Helicopters AW149.

To address the various domestic content and social value requirements of the contest, for which the MoD has assigned a 25% weighting, Lockheed has pledged that the UK’s Black Hawks would be assembled by its partner StandardAero in Gosport on England’s south coast.

Similarly, rivals Airbus Helicopters and Leonardo Helicopters have pledged local production of their platforms respectively in Broughton, North Wales, and Yeovil, Somerset.

Both have also promised to address the export market from the UK, something that Lockheed would find difficult to match given Sikorsky’s existing production footprint in the USA and at its PZL Mielec subsidiary in Poland.

All three bidders are facing a requirement that is considerably smaller than originally outlined. Although technically still within the MoD’s stated ambition of acquiring “up to 44 platforms”, FlightGlobal revealed in May that the actual quantity being sought is between 23 and 32 aircraft for a total budget of £1 billion ($1.2 billion).

The future of the NMH contest itself is also unclear: the UK general election will take place on 4 July and the acquisition is likely to be caught up in the political upheaval that will follow.

Should the opposition Labour party take power, as opinion polls indicate, it has promised to carry out a strategic defence review within 12 months of taking office, potentially slowing the NMH process or derailing it entirely. Under the most recent timeline, a contract was due to be awarded to the winning bidder in 2025.

Bearing that in mind, Lockheed seems to be awaiting more clarity on the future direction of the contest before deciding on its eventual strategy.

Despite the apparent wavering, Lockheed will have a Black Hawk present at the forthcoming Farnborough air show, where Leonardo Helicopters will also have its AW149 in the static display. Airbus Helicopters, however, is not bringing the H175M to either Farnborough or the preceding Royal International Air Tattoo event.

Should the NMH requirement be cancelled, then the MoD will need to consider what to do with the Royal Air Force’s Puma HC2 transports the new platform is supposed to be replace. Currently due to retire in 2025, the ministry has previously indicated that Puma operations could be extended until at least 2028.