Posted: Wed 24th May 2023

New UK military helicopter that could bring hundreds of jobs to Deeside hit by contract delays

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, May 24th, 2023

An attempt to secure a £1.2 billion Ministry of Defence (MoD) contract to construct the UK’s replacement for the Puma helicopter at Airbus Broughton has encountered contract delays.

The UK Government’s New Medium Helicopter (NMH) programme, inaugurated in May of the previous year, is experiencing setbacks as dates for service commencement remain unresolved, as a minister disclosed.

The programme’s goal is to replace the RAF Puma fleet and other UK military models, with Airbus vying against Leonardo and Lockheed Martin for the contract.

If Airbus secures the contract to supply 44 new helicopters, hundreds of jobs would be generated in the region.

Airbus has pledged to establish a final assembly line at the Broughton wing site to construct a military version of its H175 helicopter.

In a recent UK parliamentary defence committee meeting, Wrexham MP Sarah Atherton expressed her exasperation at the repeated deferral of the NMH procurement process.

She stated, “The Puma is set to retire in 2025, and yet the Defence Equipment & Support team is quite frustrated with the absence of a procurement process for the medium-lift helicopter.”

The Wrexham MP continued, “To my knowledge, it’s been delayed three or possibly four times.”

“It is understood that it is now ready to be approved by the assessment committee, and then it needs to be endorsed before proceeding to the ITN (invitation to negotiate phase), which could potentially add another six months to the process.”

She added, “This committee was informed earlier that the winning bidder would be announced by autumn. This is an emerging capability gap. What are you doing and what’s the NMH process?”

Responding, James Cartlidge MP, the Minister for Defence Procurement, stated, “It is a very important question.”

“We have issued a notice and dynamic prequalification questionnaire assessment to invite expressions of interest and allow us to formulate a shortlist of viable contenders.”

Last October, Airbus, Boeing, Leonardo, and Lockheed Martin were notified that they were on the shortlist.

“Beyond that, I’m afraid it is currently an active tender and commercially confidential,” he stated.

The MoD’s handling of the NMH programme has provoked concerns among industry representatives.

Dave Doogan MP pointed out a perceived defence procurement culture that leaves the “industry in the dark” and demands immediate delivery from suppliers.

In his response, Cartlidge denied that the programme had been abandoned or managed in such a way, asserting that manufacturers had been informed of the progress while acknowledging the intricacies and confidentiality of the process.

Marc Francois MP questioned the minister, asking, “When do you expect to award the NMH contract? What is the initial operating capability date for that helicopter? When is it planned to come into service? Could you please specify the two dates?”

James Cartlidge responded, “We have not yet determined those answers; we are working out the parameters for the competition.”

“That will then inform points concerning the dates that will follow in the usual manner.”

Mr Francois countered, “With respect, Minister, if you don’t even know when it’s supposed to come into service, you haven’t really got a proper competition.”

“The criticism of this particular programme is that it has been going around in circles with very little definition or concrete dates of any kind, and today, in front of the committee, you still can’t state when it is going to enter service.”

The Airbus H175M, considered a front-runner in the competition, provides a flexible range of mission capabilities, encompassing utility/troop transport, special operations, medical evacuation, command control, and combat search and rescue.

If chosen, Airbus has committed to establishing a final assembly line for the H175M at the Broughton site, creating hundreds of job openings and boosting the local economy.

The contract to supply the New Medium Helicopter also incorporates five years of support, which covers training for pilots, aircrew, and instructors, as well as logistical and service support.

While the NMH programme confronts delays and uncertainties, the MoD has prolonged the lifespan of the existing Puma fleet to perform duties in Cyprus and Brunei.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Knighton confirmed that the decision to extend Puma’s retirement beyond 2025 will hinge on the progress of the NMH programme and the alternatives for replacement.

The UK Government stated its continued commitment to the NMH programme, recognising the importance of acquiring a modern medium lift capability.

A spokesperson for Airbus Helicopters UK spoke to Deeside.com:

“We are intimately involved with the Ministry of Defence regarding the New Medium Helicopter requirement and we stand prepared to meet whatever timeline is ultimately determined.”

“The H175M that we are offering will be constructed at Broughton and exported exclusively from there to the world.”

“We will be releasing more details on the Broughton production facility in the coming weeks.”

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