Airbus Helicopters has been awarded a three-year contract to support the British Army's fleet of Aérospatiale Gazelle AH1 rotorcraft under a single-source deal.

Worth £15 million ($20.3 million), the sustainment programme will see the venerable type supported until 2022 by Airbus Helicopters UK.

Although the contract contains a three-year extension clause, it could open the possibility of retiring the Gazelle fleet earlier than the previously planned date of 2025.

Earlier this year, a senior representative from the UK's Joint Helicopter Command revealed that early work had begun on identifying a replacement for the 22-strong active fleet and hinted that the process could be accelerated.

Justifying the lack of an open competition in awarding the work to Airbus Helicopters, the Ministry of Defence notes the airframer's position as the OEM for the platform.

Support of the Gazelle "can only be carried out by Airbus Helicopters UK", it says.

"This is because they hold relevant skills, technical data, drawing and design information, and are not prepared to share or licence the use of that information outside of the Airbus group of companies."

The Gazelle is operated by the Army Air Corps in the reconnaissance and battlefield liaison role.