Three bidders – and three different aircraft manufacturers – are in the running to supply a new fleet of helicopters for use by the UK armed forces under the Military Flight Training System (MFTS) programme.

Run by Lockheed Martin-Babcock joint venture Ascent, which delivers MFTS, the contest has attracted responses from Airbus Helicopters UK, Cobham and Elbit Systems.

No further details have been released on any of the bids, but Flightglobal understands that rotorcraft from three separate airframers have been proposed.

Airbus Helicopters is thought to be offering its EC135 and EC145 light and medium twins, Cobham is pitching an AgustaWestland-based solution – likely to be the skid-equipped AW109 Trekker light twin – and Elbit is utilising Bell Helicopter products for its proposal, believed to be the 407.

Paul Livingston, Ascent managing director, declines to reveal the specifics of the offers, but says its request for proposals did not specify a particular rotorcraft type, nor whether it needed to be single- or twin-engined, nor the number required.

“They will pick a platform and work out how many they need in order to provide the number of training hours the Ascent syllabus demands,” he says. “We are confident from Ascent’s point of view that the competition is going to present us with a diverse range of options across these bidders.”

However, Livingston confirms that all the types proposed are “modern helicopters with full glass cockpits”.

Ascent hopes to be able to present its recommended solution to the UK Ministry of Defence by the third quarter of 2015, with a contract award anticipated in early 2016.

Training delivery is scheduled to start from April 2018 at the Royal Air Force's Shawbury base in Shropshire, following the end of Cobham’s contract covering service provision at the Defence Helicopter Flying School at the site in March that year.

The new rotorcraft will replace the current training fleet, which Flightglobal's Ascend Fleets database records as comprising 24 Airbus Helicopters AS350 Squirrel HT1s and 11 Bell 412 Griffin HT2s.

All the bidders decline to comment.