Puma support agreement raises questions about UK’s new helicopter programme

Puma being prepared before commencing a training task for the Royal Air Force. Source: Royal Air Force

To secure ongoing support for the Puma Mk2 AC, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has announced an extension of its contract with Airbus Helicopters UK.

The decision to extend this contract has far-reaching implications, particularly for the UK’s New Medium Helicopter programme, which is intended to replace the ageing Puma fleet.

Valued at £320m ($400m), the contract will span up to three years, providing maintenance and support for this military asset. This decision is to ensure the continued readiness and reliability of the Puma Mk2 AC in the service of the UK MoD.

The contract, which falls under the “Repair and maintenance services of military aircraft, missiles and spacecrafts,” has a closing date for submission of 20 September, 2023.

The current contract, known as the Puma follow-on support arrangement, is an extension of support for an additional three years, starting from 1 April 2025, and concluding on 31 March 31, 2028.

The extension of support for the Puma Mk2 AC raises questions about the future trajectory of the New Medium Helicopter programme. Will this extension affect the MoD’s timeline and objectives for transitioning to a new helicopter platform?

According to GlobalData’s “UK Defence Market 2022-2027” report, the New Medium Helicopter programme is for the defence platform acquisition of transport and utility helicopters in a planned deal worth $1.3bn. The agreement is planned but is undisclosed and has yet to be awarded.

In a GlobalData Analyst Briefing, titled “From four to one: the UK must choose carefully for its Future Medium Helicopter”, defence analyst James Marques emphasised that the decision to be made on the UK’s decision on what direction it will take on the medium helicopter programme is not an easy one.

“Leonardo, Airbus, Sikorsky and Bell have all put forward strong platforms, but the decision goes beyond measuring capability – the UK must consider the benefits their choice can bring to the British economy through involving domestic industry and manufacturing.”

With the new medium helicopter requirement, Army Technology understands the UK Ministry of Defence will likely fly the helicopter into the mid-2040s. Therefore, It is not a decision to be taken lightly, hence the extension of the Puma HC2 and mitigation of what is expected to be the delay of the decision on which supplier to choose from for the new medium helicopter programme. Army Technology reported in 2021 that the Puma was expected to retire by 2025.

Airbus Helicopters UK has confirmed that no licenses for Puma Mk2 support shall be granted outside the Airbus Helicopters Group. This assurance reinforces its position as the provider of support for the Puma Mk2 AC.

The extension of this contract safeguards the operational readiness and reliability of the Puma Mk2 AC, ensuring it continues to serve as an asset for the UK MoD as the New Medium Helicopter programme continues, which has experienced some delays.

In response to questions regarding the extension of the Puma Mk2 support contract with Airbus Helicopters UK and its impact on the UK Ministry of Defence’s NMH programme, the MoD told Airforce Technology that the Puma agreement would not affect ongoing plans to acquire a new medium rotary platform for the UK military.

The MoD also stated that the second phase of the NMH competition is set to proceed as scheduled later this year.

This article has been updated to include a response from the UK Ministry of Defence.


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