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The EH Industries Merlin HC3 is emerging as a front runner to meet the UK armed forces' requirement for a combat search and rescue (CSAR) helicopter.

AVM David Niven, commander of the recently formed Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) says: "In the medium term, we need to work hard at the role of CSAR. We don't need another type, but we will look across the fleet and decide where to focus the role." He adds: "We will do work across all three services and at the Air Warfare Centre. I suspect the Merlin HC3 might be favoured, but it is not decided yet." The Merlin is due to enter service with the Royal Air Force late next year and an anti-submarine warfare version is in service with the Royal Navy.

Niven says the Merlin HC3's standard equipment - which includes forward looking infrared, a defensive aids suite, in-flight refuelling probe, aircraft management system and electronic flight instrumentation - makes it well suited for the CSAR role.

Joint Helicopter Command was formed earlier this year and combines battlefield helicopter assets from the RAF, Army Air Corps and RN, including Boeing Chinooks and Westland Pumas from the RAF, Westland Lynx and Gazelle, GKNWAH-64 Apache Longbows from the AAC and the Royal Navy's Westland Sea King HC4s. The RAF's SAR helicopters and RN's shipborne machines are not part of the joint services command.

• The RAF's SAR Sea Kings could be replaced by helicopters supplied under a Public Finance Initiative. Replacement of the 25 Sea Kings, which equip two squadrons and a flight in a further unit, was included in the RAF's Future Support Rotorcraft procurement.

Source: Flight International