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Merlin Mk1 Helicopters

Volume 406: debated on Wednesday 4 June 2003

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I am pleased to announce the start of an Assessment Phase (AP) to be led by Lockheed Martin UK Ltd., with Westland Helicopters Ltd. as strategic sub-contractor, to determine how best to sustain the capability of the Royal Navy's Merlin Mk1 helicopters for future operations. Merlin Mk1 already delivers a quantum leap in capability over the aircraft it succeeded, the Sea King Mk6, and is recognised as crucial across the spectrum of maritime operations. We anticipate an upgraded aircraft entering service towards the end of the decade, building on significant operational experience and technological advances to ensure that the full potential of this versatile and capable aircraft is realised and that it continues to meet our security challenges for decades to come. The AP, costing £18 million, will investigate the most cost effective way to sustain this world beating capability and the scope for enhancements to broaden the utility and versatility of the aircraft. The partnering of Lockheed Martin as prime contractor with the world class manufacturing skills of Westland as strategic sub-contractor is believed to offer the lowest risk to the Ministry of Defence. The AP is planned to complete at the end of 2004 after which a decision will be made on the scope and programme for the Demonstration and Manufacture Phase.