The UK government has confirmed its plans to end the military provision of search and rescue helicopter services by April 2016, and of transferring the Royal Air Force's AgustaWestland Merlin HC3/3A transports to the Royal Navy.

Outlining the broad conclusions of a long-running Defence Rotary Wing Capability Study, armed forces minister Nick Harvey on 12 June said the Ministry of Defence will focus its future operations on using the AgustaWestland Lynx Wildcat and Merlin, Boeing CH-47 Chinook and Westland/Boeing Apache AH1 helicopters.

 RAF helicopters - Crown Copyright

Crown Copyright

The Chinook and Merlin will remain, but Sea King operations will end in 2016

Use of the RAF's upgraded Eurocopter Puma HC2 transports will conclude in 2025. "This offers resilience to the department's lift capability as it transitions to the four core fleets," he says.

Transferred Merlin transports will replace the RN's current Commando Helicopter Force inventory of Westland Sea Kings, while the RAF will replace their capability using 14 new-build Chinook HC6 aircraft already under contract.

UK minister for defence equipment and support Peter Luff on 11 June told Parliament that the HC6 programme will cost approximately £1 billion ($1.5 billion) for the aircraft's development and manufacture and an initial five years of in-service support.

Harvey says the tri-service capability study "identified opportunities in training and support as the most promising areas to achieve rationalisation and efficiencies. Broadly, this includes making better use of simulated training and adopting a simpler approach to procurement and alternative models for support".

Military provision of SAR cover for the UK and Falkland Islands will end with the 2016 retirement of the Sea King, with the Department for Transport to be responsible for selecting a private contractor to perform the role.

Source: Flight International