Industry will receive ITN notifications for the UK’s New Medium Helicopter programme

The next steps of the UK’s New Medium Helicopter (NMH) program will see defense candidates offer a platform – European twin Leonardo, Airbusand based in the USA Lockheed Martin – receive invitation to negotiate (ITN), as disclosed.

The NMH program will see the acquisition of a new medium-lift support helicopter to replace several existing units in the Royal Air Force and British Army, such as the Wildcat and Merlin rotorcraft.

Airbus, with the H145 design. Leonardo, with the AW149. and Lockheed Martin with Black Hawk will now negotiate their specific design requirements for a platform that the UK government hopes to adopt and develop spirals.

The number of units the Ministry of Foreign Affairs intends to procure has not yet been determined. It will probably be based on the answers and the evaluation of the three concepts.

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Responding to the UK’s official release of the ITN notice, Leonardo confirmed that it would advance the AW149 platform for the NMH programme. The company said more than 60% of AW149 production will take place in the UK, from its Yeovil facility.

NMH focuses on spiral growth and survival

This procurement strategy marks the UK’s acquisition reform, which was outlined in the Defense Command Paper in July last year, which stated that lessons learned from the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war informed stakeholders that “the acceptance of 80 % can deliver effective and powerful capability in the hands of users today. Waiting for 100% – the perfect solution – can mean losing a strategic advantage.”

For this reason, one point on which the Foreign Office will base its decision will be how much each supplier will contribute to the UK’s defense industrial base, which is considered to account for 15% of the UK’s overall procurement decision.

Given that local labor share is a long-understood key element of the NMH programme, Leonardo’s position to establish helicopter production lines in the UK can be seen as favourable.

The majority of the AW149’s structural design was undertaken at Yeovil and the company made a multi-million pound investment in a new AW149 production line at the site, as well as platform-specific training for the company’s helicopter engineers.

However, cost is also a factor with the UK defense budget reeling from inflation and cost overruns on strategic programmes, potentially giving options such as Lockheed Martin’s Black Hawk an alternative. The US company estimated in September 2023 that almost 40% of the total production and assembly of the Black Hawk would take place in the UK.

UK Defense Procurement Secretary James Cartlidge then said on 27 February that the NMH program was expected to go to contract award in 2025.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the US military recently canceled the Future Attack and Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) in an effort to reorient towards cheaper unmanned reconnaissance systems and other platforms.

Additional reporting by Richard Thomas.

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