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    UK opens bidding for new helicopter, to award contract in 2025

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    Britain has opened up bids for its New Medium Helicopter program as the nation’s modernization program moves into a major new phase, the Defence Ministry announced Tuesday.

    The U.K. expects to award a contract in 2025 to build the new helicopters, the ministry said. According to a March 2022 government document about major defense projects, the deal could be worth nearly £1.2 billion (U.S. $1.5 billion).

    “The New Medium Helicopter will provide essential support to our military operations, and we’re pleased to have reached this next important stage of the program,” Defence Procurement Minister James Cartlidge said in the news release. “The program’s competition includes essential criteria that are key to securing vital rotary wing operational independence, allowing us to respond swiftly to emerging threats in a highly contested world.”

    This program is expected to deliver up to 44 medium-lift support helicopters that can operate in all environments and perform up to five different jobs that were previously covered by different types of aircraft, the ministry said, including carrying out both combat and humanitarian missions. This is expected to streamline the U.K.’s vertical lift capabilities, providing more efficiency and operational flexibility, the ministry added.

    The U.K. branches of Airbus Helicopters, Leonardo Helicopters and Lockheed Martin are expected to submit bids now that the British military has released its invitation to negotiate.

    The potential to export these helicopters to other countries will be an important element the U.K. will consider as it evaluates bids, the ministry said. Other issues to undergo consideration include the helicopters’ design, production and manufacturing process.

    “The New Medium Helicopter contract will secure the vital operational independence we require, as well as investing in U.K. skills for the long term, and demonstrates the U.K. government’s commitment to the Defence and Security Industrial Strategy,” the ministry said in its release.

    The winner of this contract will replace the Army’s Puma helicopters, as well as the country’s aging Bell 412, Bell 212 and Airbus Dauphin helicopters.

    Lockheed and its subsidiary Sikorsky plan to submit the Black Hawk helicopter for the New Medium Helicopter program. Sikorsky president Paul Lemmo said at the Paris Air Show in June 2023 that it was considering setting up a Black Hawk final assembly line in the U.K. to strengthen its bid for the program. A final assembly line on the European continent — likely Poland — is also an option, Lemmo added.

    Airbus has teamed up with Boeing to pitch the H175M for the program, which it would build in Wales. The H175M would be a militarized version of Airbus’ commercial H175 helicopter.

    Italian firm Leonardo is eyeing its AW149 helicopter for its own bid, saying the construction style allows for the aircraft to better survive small-arms fire.

    Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.



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