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Helicopter Capability

Volume 548: debated on Monday 16 July 2012

The Ministry of Defence is making significant investment in helicopter capability, including: buying an additional 14 Chinook helicopters and modernising the existing fleet; completing the life extension programme for Puma; upgrading the Merlin helicopters and our attack helicopter capability; and replacing the current Lynx fleet with new Wildcat helicopters, the first of which was formally handed over to the MOD at the Farnborough international air show last week. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State also announced a £250 million support contract to sustain these in service. That is a substantial programme of investment that will ensure a strong and credible helicopter capability.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s reply. Will he update the House on plans to marinise the Merlin and upgrade Apache?

The Department is currently exploring options for upgrading the mark 3 and 3A helicopters as part of an assessment phase for the Merlin life sustainment programme. It will look at obsolescence issues and the ship optimisation upgrades needed for routine operation at sea. All options are still being considered, so I cannot tell my hon. Friend what he wants to know until the conclusions are available. The decision on exactly how many Apache helicopters will be upgraded will be taken at a later date, but we plan to sustain their capability until their out-of-service date, which is 2040.

The Minister will know of my sincere wish to see air-sea rescue remain within the Department. What contingency plans, if any, does he have on helicopters as far as air-sea rescue is concerned?

I have every confidence that my hon. Friends in the Department for Transport will secure that facility very successfully during the competition they are running.