The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has launched the bidding phase of its New Medium Helicopter (NMH) contest, and expects to sign a production contract during 2025.

Speaking at Defence IQ’s International Military Helicopter conference in London on 27 February, minister for defence procurement James Cartlidge announced that a long-awaited invitation to negotiate (ITN) has been released.

The process is now open for previously shortlisted candidates Airbus Helicopters (H175M), Leonardo Helicopters (AW149) and Lockheed Martin UK (Sikorsky S-70M Black Hawk) to prepare bids for the requirement, which will primarily deliver replacements for the UK’s Puma HC2s.

The MoD says that once operational, the new medium-lift capability will be “capable of operating in all environments in support of a broad spectrum of defence tasks, from warfighting to humanitarian efforts and operations around the world”.

Puma Balcombe

Source: Crown Copyright

NMH requirement will replace the UK’s current Puma HC2

“Proposals will be evaluated through 2025 when, subject to government approvals, a contract award is anticipated,” the MoD says.

“The competition includes essential criteria that are key to securing vital rotary-wing operational independence, allowing us to respond swiftly to emerging threats in a highly contested world,” Cartlidge says.

Speaking at the conference, he provided limited details about the assessment criteria for the programme, which he wants to be a “beacon of smarter procurement”. The points-based decision-making process will consider factors including export potential and sustaining the UK’s defence industrial base.

Cartlidge says the selected NMH aircraft will be a “Swiss Army Knife platform, future-proofed and procured in a way to give our forces and our defence sector maximum clout and flexibility”.

The MoD declines to outline its potential fleet requirement at this stage, saying that the number of aircraft to be acquired will be informed by offers made via the ITN process. Early in the NMH process it estimated an up to 44-aircraft need to replace the Puma and several other support types flown by the British Army.

This number could potentially be reduced, with the MoD to replace two niche requirements – to provide non-combat rotorcraft to support operations in Brunei and Cyprus – by purchasing six Airbus Helicopters H145s. Talks continue to finalise that deal, an MoD official confirms.

Current operations with the Puma fleet are due to conclude in 2025, although the MoD has previously outlined a potential move to extend this until 2028.

All three bidders for the NMH requirement have welcomed the release of the ITN – a milestone originally targeted for late 2022.