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UK awards study contracts for Merlin service life extension

The Merlin OSDEP programme is intended to extend the life of the RN's Merlin HM2 (pictured) and Merlin HC4/4a helicopters out to 2040. (Crown Copyright)

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has placed parallel contracts with Lockheed Martin UK and Leonardo Helicopters UK to identify, scope, and mitigate obsolescence issues expected to manifest in the Royal Navy's (RN's) Merlin helicopter fleet beyond 2030.

Under the Merlin Out of Service Date Extension Programme (OSDEP), the two companies will explore potential updates to both the Merlin HM2 and Merlin HC4/4a aircraft in order to sustain and enhance their respective capabilities through to a planned 2040 end-of-life. Current concept phase work is intended to precursor a full Assessment Phase starting in early 2024.

Based on the Leonardo EH101 (latterly AW101) air vehicle, the Merlin helicopter forms the bulk of the RN's rotary-wing fleet. A total of 30 HM2 variants, delivered under the prime contractorship of Lockheed Martin, are roled for anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, and airborne surveillance and control equipped with the Crowsnest role fit; a further 19 HC4 and six HC4a helicopters are operated by the Commando Helicopter Force for amphibious/battlefield support (these being HC3/3a aircraft upgraded by Leonardo Helicopters under the Merlin Life Sustainment Programme).

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