Prospective bidders for the UK’s New Medium Helicopter (NMH) requirement have until 9 December to submit their initial responses to the Ministry of Defence.
A request for information (RFI) comprising 15 questions was issued by the MoD on the back of a “market interest day” held on 25 November.
Between 36 and 44 helicopters are to be acquired to replace the Royal Air Force’s fleet of 23 Puma HC2 helicopters, plus three other rotorcraft types operated by the British Army. The full value of the contract could run to £1 billion ($1.3 billion).
According to the MoD’s draft timeline, which was presented to interested parties during the engagement day, bidders will be issued with a “dynamic pre-qualification questionnaire” in April 2022, ahead of the release of firm requirements in July that year.
A winner should be selected by January 2023, with business case approval following in May and a contract awarded that July. That process will lead to the delivery of the first helicopter in September 2024.
But the MoD offers no guidance on the timing of the procurement. “We are still determining plans for the delivery of New Medium Helicopter while understanding what is achievable from the market.
“The expectation is the NMH will be fielded as close to 2025 as possible,” it says.
No details of the MoD’s preliminary requirements have been disclosed. However, FlightGlobal understands that based on the initial performance characteristics Airbus Helicopters and Leonardo Helicopters will offer their respective H175M and AW149 platforms.
“What I can say is that the MoD is looking for an aircraft that can at least match the Puma and maybe do a bit more,” says one attendee.
The twin-engined Puma HC2 has a maximum take-off weight of 7.4t and can carry up to 12 fully equipped troops or 2,000kg (4,400lb) of cargo. Maximum speed is listed as 167kt (309km/h).
Both manufacturers have pledged to build the helicopters in the UK: Leonardo at its existing Yeovil site and Airbus at a new final assembly line at its commercial aircraft wing facility in Broughton.
The MoD in March announced its plan to replace the Puma and the three other rotorcraft – Bell 212s and 412s, and Airbus Helicopters AS365s operated by UK special forces – with a single platform.
However, no decision has been taken on when any of those helicopter fleets will be retired.
The MoD says “the rotary-wing provision to deliver the full range of defence tasks during transition to the NMH remains under review”.
There have been suggestions that the MoD could accelerate the Puma’s retirement to 2023 and live with the resulting capability gap.
Airbus Helicopters supports the Puma HC2 fleet in the UK under a deal agreed in 2018 that currently runs until March 2022. When that £100 million contract was announced, it included the potential for the agreement to be extended until the rotorcraft’s planned out-of-service date in March 2025.
Airbus Helicopters says it “stands ready to put in place any arrangements needed to support the Puma until its out-of-service date”.