UK New Military Helicopter requirement – is S70M the cheapest option?

UK New Military Helicopter requirement – is S70M the cheapest option?

14-Dec-2021 Source:

[updated 15-Dec-21.  Despite a reliable source in Romania confirming that Airbus bid the SMURD contract with the H175M, the OEM has contacted to confirm that was not the case and they bid with the H215.  Text thus updated accordingly]

Lockheed Martin have confirmed via social media – see tweet below – that they are to bid for the UK military New Military Helicopter (NMH) requirement. NMH is widely (and not accurately) referred to as the “Puma replacement”, as the remit will also see the Bell 212, Bell 412 Griffin and Dauphin platforms retired from UK military service.

NMH presents a number of key challenges to both bidders and the procuring organisation, particularly in the wide range of roles performed by the current four fleets.

Leonardo will bid the AW149, built at their plant in Yeovil, UK.  The company is also the first bidder to openly play the political card with a national press report that inbound investment of £1 billion ($1.32B) would be at risk if they did not win the competition.  The AW149 (and its civilian counterpart AW189) production lines in the UK and Italy have built just over 100 aircraft to date, and in recent months passed the 100,000 flight hours milestone for the fleet.

Airbus are putting the H175M forward, and will create a production line on the same UK site at Brougton (aka Chester), where they build wings for their airliners.  This line could see further life if Airbus manage to secure other H175M orders, although none have been received to date.  Airbus have also passed the 100,000 hour mark on their H175 fleet, but with only around 50 built to date.  70% of these are flown in offshore rig support, hence a much higher flight time per airframe.

Lockheed Martin (Sikorsky) will bid the S70M from their factory at Mielec in Poland, and just that location would mark them down a little in the assessment, we expect.  The provenance of the Black Hawk platform is well known, with over 4,000 in service.

While the UK Ministry of Defence will look closely at the overall value of each bid, including the economic benefit and other factors, the outright cost per airframe is clearly a big factor. A recent tender in Romania saw the same three OEMs offering aircraft to a similar spec. Each company provided unit prices for both a “land helicopter” and a “maritime helicopter”, the latter featuring extra naval role equipment. Taking the “land helicopter” numbers, the published unit prices were

  • Sikorsky S70M – 22.72M Euros  ($25.69M at today’s prices)
  • Leonardo AW149 – 24.35M Euros ($27.53M)
  • Airbus H215 – 31.59M Euros ($35.72M)

There are still many months remaining in the NMH program, including publishing of the requirement, time for the OEMs to get their bids in, and a further period for the UK military procurement office to consider them too.  The team will continue to watch the program closely – based as we are, in the UK – and will bring updates as they happen.

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