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    In British helicopter race, war of words emerges over ‘military grade’

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    LONDON — Executives at helicopter maker Leonardo pushed back against a competitor’s assertion that the Italian company’s AW149 helicopter, in play for the British New Medium Helicopter program, isn’t military-grade enough.

    Mike Morrisroe, the company’s lead for U.K. helicopter campaigns, on Wednesday disputed a claim by a Lockheed Martin executive from the previous day at the DSEI arms fair in London that the U.S.-based company’s offering of the Black Hawk was the only one developed purely for military use.

    The AW149 meets relevant crashworthiness standards and is built for survivability on the battlefield, with a construction meant to “minimize” the impact of small-arms fire against the cabin and the blades, he said.

    Paul Livingston, CEO of Lockheed’s U.K. subsidiary, had illustrated the Black Hawk’s military utility by saying the company’s offering is the only one offering retractable seats capable of withdrawing injured pilots to the helicopter cabin without having to exit the aircraft.

    For Leonardo’s Mark Burnand, the company’s chief test pilot, the utility of such a setup is questionable if the helicopter’s self-defense features work properly.

    “You’re not going to find yourself in that situation in the first place,” he said.

    Leonardo presented itself as a bastion of U.K. helicopter building at the start of DSEI, boasting of £1.6 billion ($2 billion) in exports over the last 18 months including orders for the design, development and manufacture of new aircraft, upgrade programs and support deals.

    The firm said the number added to a further £5bn in helicopters exports from the U.K. secured over the preceding nine years.

    It’s the only firm with “end-to-end helicopter manufacturing capability” in the country, with more than half of the U.K. military’s frontline fleet starting life at Leonardo’s Yeovil facility in Somerset, England.

    No wonder, Leonardo said, that its U.K. onshore helicopters business has recently been granted official status as the “Home of British Helicopters.”

    Should its AW149 win the U.K.’s New Medium Helicopter contest, the firm will build the platform at Yeovil and has promised that 60-70% of its content and through-life support would be carried out in the country.

    “Investment in skills and research generates valuable U.K. intellectual property and sustains an onshore industrial base that provides” the U.K. Ministry of Defence “with direct access to critical skills and capabilities that underpin operational independence and technological advantage,” it said.

    Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.

    Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.



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