Lockheed Martin UK hopes to sign a contract for a significant upgrade to the UK's Merlin helicopter fleet this year and says the aircraft could benefit from technology developed for the US Air Force's Personnel Recovery Vehicle (PRV) competition.

The Merlin Capability Sustainment Plus (MCSP) programme is designed to resolve future obsolescence issues and reduce the whole life costs of the Merlin. Lockheed Martin completed an 18-month assessment phase at the end of 2004.

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Speaking on the eve of Paris, Ron Christenson, group managing director of Lockheed Martin UK, said: "We hope to go into contract by September or October and the in-service delivery is 2011.

"Merlin has been around since 1991 and the key aim of MCSP is to ensure that it remains at the forefront of technology well into the future.

Architecture

"One of the keys is the introduction of open systems architecture. It will mean, for example, that instead of having the capability for 40 tracks on the radar system, the aircraft will instead be capable of tracking 400."

He adds: "Alongside the technological improvements we've also spent a lot of time looking at the human machine interface (HMI). Our aim is to balance new technology with reduced crew workload. We've demonstrated that to the customer and have had very positive feedback."

Central

Christenson points to the changing role of the Merlin since its introduction to service as another reason for the upgrade work. While the original mission of anti-submarine warfare remains central to the future of the platform, deployments such as Operation Tellic in Iraq redefined the aircraft's capabilities.

"Governments understand that they have expensive assets in their helicopter fleets and they need to make best use of those assets. The ability to operate as part of a networked environment will define how the military operates in the future and we believe that is where Lockheed Martin's strengths lie.

"In terms of the work we are doing to win the PRV competition, there is real potential for technology transfer and for Merlin to reap the benefits. That works both ways of course. What we learned from Merlin was very much part of our proposal for the US presidential helicopter with the US101."

PAUL DERBY

Source: Flight Daily News