The UK Ministry of Defence has kicked off the acquisition process to replace its fleet of 34 Airbus Helicopters AS350 B3 Squirrel HT1 trainers, in an effort run by Babcock/Lockheed Martin joint venture Ascent.

Although both the MoD and Ascent decline to reveal details of the request for proposals (RFP), an article in the Desider magazine published by the ministry's Defence Equipment & Support procurement body reveals that the document has been “issued to six companies”.

The MoD anticipates selecting the winning bid in 2016, with the new service to become operational in 2018, it says. Flight training will be “supported by a complementary range of ground-based equipment” to be based at RAF Shawbury in Shropshire, it adds. Responses to the RFP are due to be received by early October.

Training will be delivered through the Military Flying Training System programme run by Ascent, the Babcock and Lockheed Martin joint venture, which will take over the rotary-wing syllabus from Cobham-owned FB Heliservices when its contract with the Defence Helicopter Flying School expires in 2018.

Airbus Helicopters in July indicated it would offer a mix of EC130 and EC135 single- and twin-engined types to third-party bidders including Cobham, Elbit Systems and Serco, alongside a likely bid as prime contractor through its UK subsidiary. However, it declines to comment further.

Competition will come from AgustaWestland, which says it has “supplied data” on a number of its helicopters to interested parties, although it will not bid itself.

It is not known which rotorcraft the Anglo-Italian firm is proposing, although an advert from the manufacturer in the same publication shows a skid-equipped AW109 Trekker light-twin in UK training livery.