Helicopter Wars at DSEI

By David Oliver

One of the UK defence programmes that has caught the attention of Europe’s two leading aerospace companies at DSEI 2021, is the yet to be issued requirement for a new medium helicopter for the British Forces.  The government’s UK Integrated Review White Paper published in March 2021 stated investment in a new medium lift helicopter in the mid-2020s will enable a consolidation of the Army’s disparate fleet of medium lift helicopters from four platform types to one including the replacement of 22 Puma HC.2 between 2023 and 2025, as well as three Griffon HAR.2a, three Army Air Corps Bell 212s and five AS365N3 Dauphin 2 helicopters operated by Special Force.

Leonardo Helicopters was quick off the mark by putting forward a case for the acquisition of its AW149 which has been in development for more than a decade. The twin-engine 8-ton AW149 is designed for multirole missions such as troop transport, re-supply/external load lift, medical and casualty evacuation, Search and Rescue (SAR) and Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR), special forces operations, close air support/armed escort, Command and Control (C2) and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR). The spacious cabin and large sliding doors on both sides enable the rapid transport of up to 16 fully laden troops and the efficient recovery of stretchers on the ground or in flight, while allowing simultaneous cover fire from window-mounted machine guns.

If successful, Leonardo will build the British AW149 in Yeovil as well as any future export sales. On the first day of DSEI the company announced the launch of Team AW149 UK which represents an onshore supply chain of more than 70 UK companies nationwide that are supporting its AW149 proposal.

Airbus Helicopters are proposing to offer the H175M in competition with the AW149. Developed as a replacement for the commercial Super Puma with China’s AVIC industrial group, the prototype of the twin-engine 7-tonne first flew in 2009. Powered by two PT6C 67E Pratt & Whitney Canada’s PT6 engines, the H175 has sold steadily in the oil and gas offshore support and search and rescue roles. To date no military version has been sold but airbus has built the first H175 airframe at Marignane compliant with military requirements which would be fully capable of fulfilling the UK’s new medium helicopter requirement. Airbus Helicopters has announced that it would build the H175M helicopters for the Ministry of Defence at Broughton in Wales, and like Leonardo, would also supply the type to the export market from the UK.

Leonardo anticipates that there would be a worldwide market for the AW149 of 550 aircraft while Airbus Helicopters estimate that the market could be 500 for the H175M.

It will be, however, challenging for any single type to replace the four different medium helicopters operated by two services and in the very limited time frame outlined in the Integrated Review White Paper.

Photos courtesy Airbus Helicopters and Leonardo