Jan 28, 2014
U.K. To Spend £454M On Merlin Modernization Program
Twenty-five of the U.K. Royal Air Force’s current fleet of 28 AgustaWestland EH101 Merlin Mk. 3 and Mk. 3A helicopters will undergo the upgrade to the Mk. 4/4A standard for the U.K. Royal Navy’s amphibious Commando Helicopter Force (CHF). The upgrade is part of the Merlin Life Sustainment Program and ship optimization project.
The upgraded Merlins will be used to replace the aging Westland Sea King Mk. 4 currently in use by the CHF, which will exit service along with all other Sea Kings in the U.K. inventory by the end of March 2016.
AgustaWestland will use its experience from the development of a naval transport version of the EH101, now the AW101 for the Italian navy. The company will remove the current tail rotor system and replace it with a folding version.
A folding main rotor head will be fitted. The aircraft will also be given strengthened landing gear, deck lashing mounting points and a new fast-roping point. In the cockpit, the aircraft will be refitted with the avionics suite used in the update of the Royal Navy’s current fleet of Merlin helicopters used for anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare.
Because the program is also converting the six former Danish air force aircraft purchased by the U.K. in 2008, AgustaWestland also has to develop a common emergency egress system for use on both versions due to differences in aircraft configuration. The upgrade will give the six Danish aircraft a taste of front-line operations for the first time. In RAF service, they have been held back to support training.
The first two helicopters will enter the conversion process at the end of this year, with the first fully converted Mk. 4s expected to be available for trials in September 2017. An initial operating capability for the Merlin Mk. 4 with seven helicopters is expected in early 2018.
To provide an amphibious transport capability between the retirement of the Sea King and the introduction of the first Mk. 4 models, several Merlins will be given a folding main rotor head to allow ship-based operations, should a deployment occur. These will be known as Merlin Mk. 3i, in the interim.