The first of the UK’s fleet of next generation anti-submarine maritime patrol Merlin helicopters have been handed over to the Royal Navy.
The delivery of the five helicopters, which have been upgraded as part of a £750M Lockheed Martin contract, to the Navy’s Fleet Air Arm marks a significant milestone.
Fitted with a state-of-the-art glass cockpit and improved aircrew console and avionics, the Merlin Mk 2 will have advanced touch screen displays, and an improved ability to detect and track targets and share data with other aircraft and ships while airborne. These improvements will also enable the helicopters to carry out counter piracy and casualty evacuation roles.
Thirty Merlin Mk1 helicopters are being converted to Mk2s by Lockheed Martin. Once handed over to the Royal Navy, the airframes will undergo a series of extensive trials. The first helicopters are expected to be ready to deploy on operations by summer 2014.
Commander Ben Franklin RN, the Commanding Officer of The Merlin Helicopter Force said: “I am extremely proud to be leading the Merlin Force during this period. The delivery of the first five aircraft to the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm is a real milestone of this successful programme which will provide vital support to the Navy as it fulfils its role in protecting UK interests across the Globe.”
Commodore Andy Lison RN, responsible for the Merlin, Lynx and Sea King teams for the MOD’s Defence, Equipment and Support Organisation, said: “I am delighted that we are now firmly in the delivery phase of the project. The Merlin Mk 2 is a truly exceptional aircraft and the programme to develop and build this aircraft has brought together the very best of the MOD and defence industry to future-proof this vital capability for Defence.”
Bob Kramer, Vice President and Group Managing Director, Lockheed Martin UK Integrated Systems, said: “The Merlin Capability Sustainment Programme (MCSP) represents a magnificent team effort led by Lockheed Martin and AgustaWestland, supported by our suppliers, to provide the Royal Navy with unrivalled capability to carry out its anti-submarine patrol and policing requirement.”
• The existing Merlin Mk1 is primarily an Anti-Submarine Warfare helicopter, operated by the Royal Navy around the world. It entered service in 1998 and following this programme to renew the cockpit avionics, its life will be extended for decades to come, with improved secondary roles such as casualty evacuation and counter piracy.