Merlin Mk3 upgrades for Commando Helicopter Force
A third of a billion pounds is to be spent turning RAF Merlins into Fleet Air Arm ones to carry the Royal Marines into battle.
Whitehall today announced a £330m investment in the nation’s Merlin fleet allowing the RAF’s ‘green’ Mk3 models to be converted ready for front-line operations with the Commando Helicopter Force.
The 25 upgraded Merlins – the Mk4 – will replace the venerable Sea King Mk4s which are due to be retired in two years’ time.
The RAF Merlin is battle proven after a decade of operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
It can carry two dozen troops with kit, or in a ‘flying ambulance’ role, 16 casualties on stretchers. It can also lift artillery pieces, Land Rovers, or five tonnes of equipment slung beneath it if required.
It doesn’t have a sonar and submarine hunting kit like its Royal Navy counterpart – but it does have a stern ramp for troops to climb on and off.
To convert them for Fleet Air Arm purposes, the 25 helicopters will receive new glass cockpits and avionics, a folding main rotorhead and tail, and improved undercarriage.
The upgrade was announced by Defence Secretary Philip Hammond on a visit to AgustaWestland in Yeovilton.
As well as the investment in the Merlin force, the minister also announced a £430m contract to revamp the Army’s Apache gunships for continued operations around the world.
The double contracts will secure more than 1,000 jobs in UK engineering and manufacturing, with the work being carried out by AgustaWestland at its sites in Yeovil, Suffolk and Hampshire; GE Aviation in Cheltenham, General Dynamics in East Sussex, Selex ES in Luton and APPH Aviation Services in Cheshire.
“This is also an important step in ensuring our Armed Forces have the best helicopters available, safeguarding the Army’s Attack Helicopter capability – and providing the Royal Navy and Royal Marines with an upgraded, modern Commando Helicopter Force,” said Mr Hammond.
“The UK defence industry makes an important contribution to the economy, generating revenue of over £22 billion each year and its highly skilled workforce plays a crucial part in growing our economy. This investment will help secure British jobs, providing security to thousands of workers and their families.”
Royal Navy and Royal Marines air and ground crew are already working and training side-by-side with their RAF counterparts on the green Merlin at RAF Benson.
The aircraft are due to be formally transferred to the Fleet Air Arm this autumn and will move to the Commando Helicopter Force’s home at RNAS Yeovilton in due course.