The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) could be close to issuing its long-delayed invitation to negotiate (ITN) to contenders for the New Medium Helicopter (NMH) requirement, Minister for Defence Procurement James Cartlidge indicates.

“It will be published very soon,” Cartlidge told the House of Commons Defence Committee on 21 February. Pressed further, he adds: “I am hoping before the end of this month.”

The MoD in 2022 shortlisted a trio of potential bidders in support of a process primarily intended to replace Puma HC2 transport helicopters operated by the Royal Air Force, and at that time was expected to issue the ITN later the same year.

RAF Puma

Source: Crown Copyright

Trio of contenders are vying to replace the UK’s aged Puma HC2 fleet

Repeated slips to this schedule have frustrated rivals Airbus Helicopters, Leonardo Helicopters and Sikorsky parent Lockheed Martin, and seen the Puma fleet edge closer to a planned out of service date in 2025.

Also speaking to the committee, Chief of Defence Staff (Finance and Military Capability) Lieutenant General Rob Magowan declined to provide an expected target date for an NMH platform to achieve initial operational capability (IOC), noting that these factors would be informed by responses to the ITN document.

“We think there is going to be a healthy competition. As a result of that we will be able to declare how many aircraft we are going to design and build in this country and when the in-service and IOC dates will be. We can’t do that until we have run the competition,” he adds.

Referring to the Puma fleet, he notes: “At the moment we are not planning to run it on past 2025, but we may well need to,” or face a capability gap until a new type enters use. The MoD late last year signalled that it could extend its existing in-service support arrangement for the aged type, in order to enable operations to continue until the end of March 2028.

Rivals for the NMH requirement are the Airbus Helicopters H175M, Leonardo Helicopters AW149 and the Sikorsky S-70M.

Meanwhile, Cartlidge also told the committee that the MoD is expecting to make a decision soon on whether to proceed with or cancel a contract for 14 Boeing CH-47 Extended Range Chinooks, valued at around $1.5 billion.

“There have been issues around cost growth, and when that happens it is entirely right that we assess these matters,” Cartlidge says.

“We want to be sure that we get the best possible deal through the FMS [Foreign Military Sales] process, and that involves constant negotiation,” Magowan adds. “We think that both on price and FMS evolution that we will be able to make a decision very quickly.”