Company receives $30 million contract to study capability improvements for AgustaWestland maritime helicopter

Lockheed Martin has received an £18 million ($30 million) contract to study possible capability improvements for the AgustaWestland EH101 Merlin HM1 maritime helicopter, which will be the backbone for the machine's in-service development.

The Merlin Capability Sustainment Plus (CSP) upgrade will ensure the helicopter's mission system is adaptable, allowing changes to be made faster, says Lockheed Martin UK Integrated Systems business development director Andy Head.

Commercial off-the-shelf systems and an open architecture will be part of the study, says Head. Lessons from the recent war in Iraq are also likely to be considered during the two-year study, he adds. The mission system dates from the late 1980s:Lockheed Martin UK says the processors under consideration for CSP are "3,000 times more powerful" than the existing computers.

Platform changes under consideration include the introduction of the Westland-developed Helicopter Electronic Actuation Technology (Heat) digital flight control system.

Some of the changes will be "long-term", preparing the Merlin to receive new capabilities beyond the scope of CSP. Other upgrades will be "very rapid", he adds.

Lockheed Martin UK is the prime contractor for the Merlin HM1. Its sister Integrated Systems business in Owego, New York, is leading the US Navy's Sikorsky MH-60R maritime helicopter programme. Head says: "We'll ensure US lessons are learned, although there are no specific examples yet to draw on. But CSP won't be anMH-60R copy."

Head says Lockheed Martin and AgustaWestland will share the study work and take the lead in their respective areas of experience.

Final CSP approval is planned for 2005, which will be followed by a development and manufacturing phase. The in-service date is nominally 2009, although Head suggests new capabilities will likely be phased in rather than introduced in one go.

The Italian navy's Helicopter Early Warning (HEW) version of the EH101 debuted at Paris. The HEW is equipped with a version of the FIARAPS-784 pulse-Doppler surveillance radar configured for airborne early warning (AEW). The machine is one of four AEW machines on order. The navy has taken delivery of eight maritime helicopters and eight for amphibious operations.

Source: Flight International