Leonardo Helicopters and Lockheed Martin UK have each been awarded contracts worth £1.8 million ($2.29 million) to evaluate how to keep the Royal Navy’s (RN’s) AW101 Merlin fleet operational until 2040.
Detailed on 4 July, the contract notifications from the Ministry of Defence order the two companies to “undertake a full review of and validation of the obsolescence issues anticipated to arise with the airframes and equipment, together with the associated training aids in the 2030+ timescale in order to extend the out-of-service date of the Merlin Mk2 and Mk4/4a aircraft”.
“Leonardo and Lockheed Martin are in the concept phase for the Merlin Out of Service Date Extension Programme, which we would anticipate to lead to a contract for the detailed assessment phase early next year,” the two companies state.
Previously, the RN’s 30 Merlin HM2s were due to retire in 2029, with the 25 Merlin HC4/4As set to follow a year later. However, these dates were extended to 2040 following the 2021 defence review.
Merlin HM2s are used for anti-submarine warfare missions – plus serve as an airborne surveillance and control platform for the RN’s aircraft carriers via the Crowsnest modification – while the HC4/4As are used as troop transports by the Commando Helicopter Force.
Both have received extensive modifications in recent years, raising them from their previous HM1 and HC3/3A standards; Leonardo Helicopters delivered the final HC4 rotorcraft in January this year.
Although all the Merlins were built by Leonardo Helicopters in Yeovil, responsibility for the upgrade work was split: the UK airframer was in charge of HC4 conversion activities, while Lockheed was prime contractor for the HM2 project.
As a result, to address the future obsolescence issues, contracts are required with both companies as each has “the specific know-how, tools and equipment and access to the technical drawings, publications and manufacturing data” for the relevant helicopters.
“The procurement strategy taken is one where parallel, mirrored single-source contracts are to be with Leonardo Helicopters and Lockheed Martin”, says the notification.
“This aims to reduce the co-ordination risk seen in previous projects by establishing a Joint Project Office.”