The first next generation Merlin helicopter, termed ‘interim Merlin Mk3’ (iMk3), has been delivered to 846 Naval Air Squadron.
The CHF are the wings of the Royal Marines, providing crucial aerial support to the green berets be they at sea in an assault ship or in the sands of the desert.
The ‘iMk3’ has undergone a series of marinisation modifications to enable operation from RN and RFA ships, these include; folding main rotor head, strengthened undercarriage and communications upgrades and provide an interim maritime capable Merlin prior to the full upgrade to HC4 standard.
The upgrade to HC4 will see a folding main rotor head will be fitted and 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. The programme will also include obsolescence updates to improve maintainability and reliability.
Lt Cdr JJ Hughes, Maritime Aviation Programme Support Office, Merlin Life Sustainment Programme (MLSP), Programme Manager, said;
“This is a key milestone in the overall MLSP programme and represents the culmination of over 20 months work. Although the aircraft looks little different to the current Merlin Mk3, it brings with it a significant capability increase.”
AgustaWestland was awarded a £330 million contract to upgrade the Merlin fleet. £120 million will be spent on associated training, trials and infrastructure.
Under the MLSP contract awarded to AgustaWestland, additional ‘iMk3s’ will be delivered to CHF to meet Initial Operating Capability in time for when the Sea King retires from service. From late 2017, 25 fully upgraded Merlin Mk4 aircraft will start delivery to CHF.