Sikorsky remains confident that its “combat-proven” UH-60 Black Hawk can see off the competition for the UK’s New Medium Helicopter (NMH) programme and does not rule out completing the rotorcraft in the country – potentially alongside a rival bidder – if selected.
With UK industrial concerns likely to play a key role in the procurement, Airbus Helicopters and Leonardo Helicopters have set out the plans for domestic assembly and increasing UK content on their respective H175M and AW149 platforms. However, the US airframer continues to stay silent on its strategy.
Robert Mathers, Sikorsky regional manager, Europe and Eurasia, strategy and business development, acknowledges the “strong pressure for UK industrial participation in any helicopter procurement” and says it is going into the contest with “open eyes and open ears”.
“If the customer wants a Black Hawk then we’ll give them a Black Hawk,” he says.
He notes that in the past Sikorsky “successfully produced several hundred helicopters in the UK at Yeovil” under an agreement that saw the then Westland Helicopters – a forerunner of Leonardo Helicopters – produce several types under licence.
But even though Leonardo Helicopters is lined up against Sikorsky for the NMH contest, Mather says the company is “not ruling anything out” when it comes to reviving its past collaboration.
While declining to be drawn on its precise strategy, Mather adds: “We hope to be able to give [the Ministry of Defence] a combat-proven, reliable platform that also has an economic benefit for the UK.
“We have open eyes and open ears. We are not going to rule anything out. It can be UK product. We would look to do something that the political leadership can say ‘this is made in the UK’.”
It is possible that Sikorsky would look to replicate its proposal for the Romanian ministry of the interior, which would see Black Hawks partially built at its PZL Mielec subsidiary in Poland and then shipped to the customer for local completion. Mather declines to comment.
However, with the Mielec production line already assembling the S-70i variant of the Black Hawk, plus Turkish Aerospace also able to sell its licence-built T-70 internationally, it is uncertain what export opportunities there would be for UK-produced examples.
It is also doubtful whether the UK could take advantage of the cost savings offered by the US Foreign Military Sales process if it required the helicopters to be finished locally.
Regardless of the domestic industrial arguments, Mather contends that the Black Hawk is the strongest contender from an operational perspective.
“Just because you paint something green does not make it a military helicopter,” says Mather, offering a sideswipe at the two rival platforms, both of which have strong commonality with their civil variants.
“The Black Hawk was designed from the beginning as a military helicopter.
“There’s superficial clean lines and nice design but then what do you actually need? There’s a reason why our special operations community still fly the Black Hawk.”
And responding the frequent jibe that the Black Hawk does not offer a ‘modern’ solution, he adds: “They have obviously never been inside an M-model UH-60.”
The NMH will replace the Royal Air Force’s fleet of Puma HC2 transports from mid-decade, plus three other types operated by the British Army.
Details of the NMH requirements have yet to be released by the Ministry of Defence.