AW101 Merlin helicopter

Northrop Grumman has signed a teaming agreement with AgustaWestland to bid for the US Air Force’s (USAF) combat search and rescue (CSAR) helicopter contract.

The team will offer a US-built rotorcraft based on the AgustaWestland AW101 medium-lift helicopter for the contract. The aircraft is intended to replace the USAF’s ageing fleet of Sikorsky-built HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters.

AgustaWestland chief executive officer, Bruno Spagnolini, said: "We strongly believe that the AW101 is the right aircraft for both missions and that this team can succeed."

The highly-survivable helicopters will be equipped with advanced mission suites, integrated onboard sensors and communications systems.

A draft request for proposals (RFP) was released by the USAF last week to formally start competition in for the acquisition of a total of 148 helicopters, reports Reuters.

The $10-15bn CSAR-X competition was previously called off by the USAF in 2010 due to budget concerns.

The team is also planning to offer the helicopter for the US Navy-Marine Corps’ long-delayed Marine One presidential helicopter (VXX) programme contract, which aims to replace the VIP fleet that ferries the US president.

Currently, Sikorsky’s VH-3 Sea King helicopter is used for VIP transportation missions in US.

Paul Meyer, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems sector advanced programs and technology vice president and general manager, said: "We believe that this industry partnership will bring together the best experience, expertise and resources, ensuring that the customer receives the best solution."

Powered either by three Rolls-Royce/Turbomeca RTM322 or General Electric CT7 engines, the AW101 is a medium-lift helicopter designed to conduct medium-sized transport and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) missions in extreme weather conditions.

The helicopter is currently operational with the UK, Danish, Canadian and Portuguese air forces, as well as Royal and Italian Navies.

Image: A UK Royal Air Force’s AW101 Merlin prepares to land in Al Fao, Iraq. Photo: courtesy of DVIDSHUB.