A full quarter of the decision-making consideration for the UK’s New Medium Helicopter (NMH) programme will be dependent on ‘social value’ and ‘UK industrial capability’, as the country looks to deliver a new fleet of helicopters to replace a range of in-service platforms.

Information revealed by the UK’s Defence Procurement Minister James Cartlidge revealed the levels at which in-country industrial participation and social value offsets would influence the potential winner, with the competition including a 10% “weighting” for social value “in line with the Cabinet Office Social Value Model and guidance”.

Further, the NMH programme decision also included an “additional 15% weighting for UK industrial capability which includes essential industrial considerations, spanning design, production, manufacture and importantly, export potential,” stated Cartlidge on 18 March.

“This is intended to ensure that the New Medium Helicopter contract will secure the vital operational independence we require, as well as investing in UK skills for the long-term and demonstrates the UK Government’s commitment to the Defence & Security Industrial Strategy,” Cartlidge said.

It is widely anticipated that the UK Ministry of Defence will invite Airbus, Leonardo, and Lockheed Martin to negotiate the details of their respective rotorcraft concepts, after the UK Government’s confirmation in February that it would soon issue Invitation to Negotiate (ITN) notices.

According to the UK Government the competition will be managed by Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) and proposals will be evaluated through 2025 when, subject to approvals, a contract award is anticipated.

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What are the contenders offering for the NMH programme?

Responding to the formal issuance of the ITN notice by the UK, Leonardo confirmed it would be putting forward its AW149 platform for the NMH programme. The company stated that more than 60% of AW149 production would take place in the UK, from its facilities in Yeovil.

Leonardo showcasing the AW149 during the UK’s Farnborough Airshow, and already has a history of rotary provision in the UK. Credit: Richard Thomas

Leonardo’s already established facilities have been used by the UK to help in the production of the AW159 Wildcat and AW101 Merlin helicopters in service with the country’s military.

Meanwhile, another contender for the UK NMH programme will be Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk, a type in service with a number of militaries around the world, including the United States.

In a September 2023 release Lockheed Martin stated that it estimated nearly 40% of total Black Hawk production and assembly will occur in the UK and will support around 600 UK jobs a year between 2025 and 2030.

Additionally, Lockheed’s Black Hawk proposal would create approximately £470m ($597.3m) of export opportunities for UK partners manufacturing sub-systems and components over the next 10 years, equivalent to 40% of the total programme value, based on the expected export market to Black Hawk customers, the company stated.

The ubiquitous UH-60 Black Hawk is widely operated by militaries around the world and could provide a cost-effective option. Credit: US Army

An onwards sustainment requirement would also support around 320 jobs per year for “decades to come”, when the UK Black Hawk fleet was operational.

Pitched as one the most attractive elements at the time was the potential for “UK industry to take part in the development and production of Lockheed Martin’s next generation rotorcraft solutions, creating a potential 45-year pipeline of work and exports for UK companies”, it was stated.

However, Lockheed Martin’s participation in the US military’s FARA helicopter programme will end in the coming months, with the programme’s effective cancellation.

Another factor to consider for any UK selection of the Black Hawk would be the role that Poland’s PZL Mielec could play in limiting any potential export opportunities for UK-built platforms. PZL Mielec maintains the largest Lockheed Martin production plant outside the United States, delivering Black Hawk helicopters to 18 customers from 11 countries around the world since 2010.

The final entry for the NMH programme will likely come from Airbus with its H175M platform, which would be assembled at the company’s UK site in Broughton.

Airbus stated in June 2023 that as well as boosting the economy by creating over 400 jobs, a new UK production facility would be “strategically important for both Airbus Helicopters and the UK”, creating a new helicopter manufacturing line for exports.

“It also supports Airbus Helicopters’ strategy of making the UK the fourth ‘core’ country of its strategic future and cements Airbus Helicopters in the UK’s position as part of the UK’s national security and national resilience architecture for the long term,” said Lenny Brown, managing director of Airbus Helicopters in the UK.

Airbus has pulled together an international team to pitch the H175M to the UK, including US defence prime Boeing. Credit: Airbus

Airbus’ focus also appears to make significant reference to developing industrial partnerships with companies in North Ireland and Wales.

The UK’s NMH programme could replace up to five current in-service platforms, including the RAF’s Puma HC2 and Bell 412, the Army Air Corps Bell 212, and the Airbus AS365 Dauphins operated by UK Special Forces.

Additional reporting from John Hill.