Guto Bebb has announced the delivery of the first of a fleet of new helicopters designed for Royal Marine aircraft carrier operations.

The helicopter, known as the Commando Merlin Mk4, has been upgraded to a faster and more powerful aircraft than its predecessor. It now sports a maritime grey coat, has a folding main rotor and tail, upgraded flight controls and a tactical computer. The modifications are designed to ensure it can now operate from sea, and it will take off from ships including the UK’s new 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth.

A total of 25 Commando Merlin aircraft will be delivered to the Commando Helicopter Force –- who will use them to deliver troops and supplies from sea to land.

Defence Minister Guto Bebb said:

“This new version of the Merlin will provide an essential bridge between sea and land for our Marines operating from ships, including our brand-new aircraft carriers. This fleet will deliver troops and supplies to the centre of the action, be that a conflict zone or the site of a humanitarian disaster, as well as providing search and rescue cover.

Flown from the Yeovil factory to now be homed here, this is another way defence is supporting the South West, where we spent over £5bn last year – more than any other region in the UK.”

Defence Minister Guto Bebb has today announced the delivery of the first of a fleet of new helicopters designed for Royal Marine aircraft carrier operations. Crown copyright.

The Commando Merlin Mk4 aircraft, an upgrade from the Merlin Mk3 standard, are being delivered through a £388 million contract between the MOD’s Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) and Leonardo Helicopters, supporting 175 skilled jobs at Leonardo in Yeovil, and a further 500 across the UK supply chain.

Last year the MOD’s highest spend per person in the UK was in the South West, where £920 was spent for each member of the population – totalling around £5,079,000,000. Defence spending in the region also supported one in every 60 jobs there – the highest proportion of jobs support by MOD expenditure in the UK, totalling 33,500 jobs.

DE&S Director Helicopters Air Vice-Marshal Graham Russell said:

“DE&S is proud to have delivered the first Merlin Mk4 to the Royal Navy. Today underscores that DE&S and their industrial partners are delivering. And delivering more with less, thanks to our effective change programme and fantastic staff.

We look forward to all 25 aircraft being fully operational by 2023. DE&S will also ensure the Commando Merlin are supported with a full training and support solution, so they are always available to be deployed across the globe.”

Defence Minister Guto Bebb has today announced the delivery of the first of a fleet of new helicopters designed for Royal Marine aircraft carrier operations. Crown copyright.

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Is this the only fleet of Merlin’s we have now or are there other Mk3s and such to operate off frigates and destroyers?

Steve10 HM2 ASW 24, soon to be 30. There are a further 8 airframes in storage


Ah so there will be separate ASW fleets and commando fleets then?

Paul Davis

Correct Mk.2 (formerly Mk. 1) in ASW role with option of Crowsnest pod and Mk. 4 (formerly RAF Mk. 3) for CHF.


Thanks for clearing that up for me guys


Can anyone tell me what the planned number of each helicopter type and variant the uk MOD will be using? Not something I’ve kept up with.


Last I heard the planned 2019 rotary wing inventory looked like this;

Merlin M2 30
Wildcat HM 28
Merlin M3/4 25

Chinooks 60
Puma 22

Apache A64 60
Wildcat 34

That’s less than half the number in 2009. Will be interesting to see if Gavin Williamson’s comments yesterday at RUSI ‘mass has a quality all of its own’ has any bearing on these and other numbers in MDP.


and as at 1st April 2018 in parliamentary report, of the above numbers the following were in sustainment fleets (reserve);

Chinooks 19
Puma 7
Merlin CHF 14
Merlin Mk2 5
Wildcat RN 4
Apache 8 (fleet already cut to 50, not 60)
Wildcat Army 10

I’m all for sustainment fleets but that leaves just 211 front line helos across all three forces – you can see how wafer thin it all is


Thanks Ian.

Bob Powell

At present the CHF Merlins break down as follows: 22 Merlin Mk3 and 6 Merlin (formerly Danish) Mk3A (28 total) aircraft became: 12 Merlin Mk3, 7 iMk3 (i for interim) and 6 Mk3A (3 Merlin Mk3 were retired leaving a total of 25. The 12 Mk3 and 7 iMk3 will become 19 Mk4 and the 6 Mk3A will become 6 Mk4A (much closer in design to the Mk4 than the 3A is to the 3). Of the total 25, 21 will be in the forward fleet, i.e. available to the front line, 4 will be in depth maintainance i.e. the… Read more »

Theres a breakdown of each type of rotary platform in service projected in service 2019 for each of the forces, along with a comparison with 2009 numbers. Granted, the article is from 2015, but as far as I’m aware theres been no major changes to the rotary fleet announced since then.

Its certainly depressing to see how much even the helicopter fleet has shrunk, especially in an age where they offer so many advantages.


Remember, Apache will reduce by 10 when replaced by a fleet of upgraded machines.


Quote:”Last year the MOD’s highest spend per person in the UK was in the South West, where £920 was spent for each member of the population – totalling around £5,079,000,000. Defence spending in the region also supported one in every 60 jobs there – the highest proportion of jobs support by MOD expenditure in the UK, totalling 33,500 jobs”.
… Waiting for the SNP loons to stir up the sticky stuff!

Harry Bulpit

Are these actual new aircraft, or are they simply Merlin MK3 airframes with upgrades?

Paul T

Harry – the latter I think.

Harry Bulpit

Thought so. Thanks


All we need now is an LPH for them to operate from


(Chris H) Albion – We have two – they are called HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. Each one capable of delivering 3 times the number of Helos Ocean did. I think the very concept of unique LPH is now redundant when you have to control spending and have adaptable carriers that can also deliver fixed wing support if the operation demands it. Unless you are the USA which spends like there is no tomorrow and has to have 10 of everything for some reason …

Harry Bulpit

Considering defence experts have said that the carrier can not full fill the role of a dedicated LPH , I think Albion has a point.


I agree Harry. Not only are they different but the carriers are supposed to operate on rotation. I think it’s mad we don’t have dedicated LPH capability. Not that it will make any difference – Gov not interested.

Sceptical Richard

Chris, BS, I’m afraid. And it’s not just the US that can afford it. Italy and France have separate aircraft carriers and LPHs. Smaller, but still very different ships. The QEs are not helicopter carriers. They would only be used as such in a non contested environment. They wouldn’t be risked in a contested one and therefore would be useless. They don’t have specialised vehicle decks, LCVPs, the specialised C3, ramps and loading pontoons to deliver vehicles and personnel at pier heads or to Mexifloats, etc., etc. They have quite rightly been designed as CVAs and by definition, anything with… Read more »


I understand the concern about contested environments, but if you think that the RN or any other western navy would operate a dedicated LPH in contested waters then I think you would be mistaken… No way an America class or a Mistral would venture within helo range of a beach that had any serious anti shipping weaponry in range. No one can afford to lose that much men and materiel these days, and I’m glad for it. If you want to call the QE useful for that reason, you’d have to extend it to dedicated LPH too. As far as… Read more »

Andy G

Carriers are designed for F35 and helo, I dont really understand why people think this needs seperate platforms.

QE is going to be a fantasic LPH as well as F35 carrier.

Sceptical Richard

Hear! Hear!


Lets get the existing fleet fully manned and up to spec before calling for a LPH.


I’ve a feeling in my water that the fact that we are ordering just 2 FSS ships and refitting RFA Victoria opens up the possibility of building a kind of multi pupose configurable flat top to replace Argus ( and Ocean). You can do a lot with containers these days. Argus’ poor performance as an LPH in Bosnia was the reason Ocean was built I think. But if you were to design an Argus replacement from scratch you might be able to engineer a ship that was effective in both LPH and casualty roles.

Nick C

This seems to be a very leisurely build rate to get to 25 airframes. And as has been said already the numbers we now have are very small. If you consider it is likely that only half that total will be operational at any time, allowing for maintenance and training, once you have filled up POW with a full load of helos and boot necks there are no more aircraft for the LPD’s or auxiliaries. This is a news story, but not a good news story.


And the thing is, they’re not even ‘new’ airframes, merely an upgrade on the old Merlins that the RAF once had.

Helo numbers are wafer thin, particularly for the RN.

Andy G

Would you prefer feast and famine?

Nick c

Adding to Chris’s comment, I know that the new carriers can carry a lot of aircraft, but if you haven’t got them you can’t use them. And there is still not that much space for chinooks because they don’t have folding rotors.


Was it 2009 a report came out from the army begging for additional helicopters as it was severally hindering operations in Afghanistan and contributed to additional risk and deaths from roadside bombs because they didn’t have any alternative means of transport?
I don’t mind having large sustainment fleets and helecopters being held in reserve in peace time, but the military needs the spare capacity for operational deployments and times of emergency. In the unlikely event there was a conflict in eastern Europe 50 Apaches won’t go very far against to 2,000 MBTs and 5,000 APC rolling over the border.


Typhoon and Brimstone @ 8 Brimstone per aircraft per sortie would be the way to go I think.
For me this is the sense in the Germans replacing their Tornados with Typhoon.


Is that an in flight refuelling probe I see in the photos?..
Didn’t know that was being added …

Sceptical Richard

Yes AV, well spotted. Refuel from what though? French or American KC-130s I suppose. RAF not buying AAR pods for A400M and anyway that capability has not been cleared yet. Also I’ve spotted DIRCM turrets on either side. But no FLIR turret or aperture up front, so I’m guessing just NVGs for night time flying.


Yes saw that too.
Limited AAR refuelling giving increased range completely kills off the separate assault heli carrier hopes.
They’ll just park the QE carriers further out instead to mitigate risk.
Or am I just getting more cynical with age?

Sceptical Richard

AV, only thing they can do is use the carrier as a parking and maintenance garage for the helos, keep the carrier a long way off and use the LPDs and LSLs as stepping stones for the helos on their way inland. I think both the LPDs and Bays have refuelling facilities? They’ll have to be closer inshore to operate the landing craft and mexefloats. Also, a fully laden helo or one carrying a heavy underslung load don’t fly too far…


Hence the air to air refuelling probe me thinks…
Will be interesting to see how this all pans out.


LPDs, Bays, have land on refueling capabilities. T45 and T23 also have land on refuel capabilities as do the Rivers. You can even HIFR ( hover in flight refueling) if you want to.
HIFR however is probably the most unnatural act a ship and a helo can do together. Unless you have seen it and participated first hand you would not believe it.
You stand on the flight deck holding the fuel line that is plugged into a helo hovering next to the ship as you chug along at 12 knots. It is a weird weird feeling.

Bloke down the pub

Has anyone seen any explanation of the decision to paint them grey? I can see that there may be circumstances where it might suit better than the olive green but I’m curious as to the logic. Maybe it’s just to make it harder for plane spotters to tell the difference from the HM 3s.

Daniele Mandelli

One of my bugbears this. The original Sea King Commando HC4’s were meant to be replaced by FABR – Future Amphibious Battlefield Rotarcraft until, as well reported at the time, Brown cut the helicopter budget. So they robbed Peter to pay Paul. Taking RAF Merlins and giving them to the RN. The RAF was meant to get 22 Chinook as recompense, and ended up with 14, still, better than nothing. A better solution would have been keeping all assets as is and buying 30 new helicopters for the CHF, but that costs money and HMG, as usual, would not pay.… Read more »

Sceptical Richard

Daniele, the RAF never wanted the Merlin. They were glad to get rid of it and get more Chinooks instead. Merlin was designed from scratch as a maritime platform and they are now finally being correctly employed. I think they’re the right aircraft for the job. Pity is the Italians had them ages ago. It’s taken us yonks to get there. But better late than never.

Sceptical Richard

Daniele, the RAF never wanted Merlin. They were glad to get rid of it and have more Chinooks instead. Merlin was designed as a maritime helicopter and finally they’re being used as intended. Good decision. Shame is the Italians got there about 20 years before! Better late than never though

Daniele Mandelli

Yes maybe so SR I do not know the service gossip. Maybe the RAF were pleased to get shot of it. My point, as always, concerns numbers. Numbers. Numbers. Numbers. We had: 35 Commando HC4 Sea King in 845, 846, 848 NAS. 28 Merlin in 28 and 78 Sqns. 63 Helicopters. We now have: 14 new Chinook in existing squadrons with no new front line unit formed apart from taking the OCU flights of Puma and Chinook and reforming 28 (R) as a joint OCU as a way to keep the 28 “Number Plate” alive. 25 Merlin in 845 and… Read more »


28 Merlin in the RAF, but only 25 transferred to the RN. What happened to the additional 3? Stripped for spares?

Daniele Mandelli

No idea Lusty.

I also noticed an error in my post.

846 NAS is reformed on Merlin not 848.

That, like so many others is long gone.


Who knows? Maybe they will be reincarnated as HM2s for the 3 extra Type 31 ASW frigates? One can but hope.

Bloke down the pub

While in RAF service, a couple of them were damaged from heavy landings in Afganistan. It was my understanding that they were not economical to return to flying condition but were retained for ground based training.

Andy G

I hope you will be pleasantly surprised with the modernising defence review. More frigates, more helos, more manpower.

We dont want to peak too soon.

Daniele Mandelli

God I hope so Andy.

Sceptical Richard

I totally agree on the numbers issue Daniele. I was just making the point that Merlin will make a good Commando helicopter. I am extremely pessimistic however. I believe our economy will take time to recover from the Brexit effect (whatever your personal views on Brexit) and any government will face additional costs to adapt to the different circumstances. At the same time NHS costs are spiralling and we also need to spend more on education. We’ve heard for the first time talk from the government on the possibility of higher taxes. People have a go at the foreign aid… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

With you SR.

Understand your point re Merlin as Commando helicopter. At least they are all in the senior service now.


I suspect that helos are one asset the military can never have enough of. If that is the case where do we stop? Say enough 25% to 40% more than we have? Apaches I would say double mind.

Daniele Mandelli


If the upcoming MDP ( clues in the name ) a total farce no doubt, results in no cuts and even a modest increase in just a couple of areas I will consider it a total miracle.

HMG prioritise the military industrial complex, not the military itself.

Every review results in big ticket purchases and a juicy contract for, usually, BAES, ( the Carrot ) and further cuts to the forces.

Sorry to the regulars on here for being so pessimistic today but after 6 reviews in 23 years I’ve had just about enough of it!


Question, I understand why we using QE / POW in an LPH role is not desirable but both Albion and Bulwark have good sized flight decks and by nature are an asset we would place in a contested environment, can they not have a hanger (for maintenance) added, we would have to accept deck parking of helicopters but I would gues you could have a hanger for two and still keep four Merlin sized slots on the deck. Might give them an enhanced role which would not be a bad thing. If it is possible to have a folding roster… Read more »


Whilst this is generally a great story, I have a real issue with this. Once again we are spending huge amounts of money on an upgrade when actually we could have bought another 15 brand new Merlins with this. Folding rotors and all that are very nice, but actually build ships large enough to take them with rotors out (CVF can certainly accommodate this and buy more standard helicopters. At the end of the day – they are utility vehicles that need to be robust to get in and out quickly. The Merlin is a great helicopter and I am… Read more »

Sceptical Richard

I would normally agree with you Pacman, but not this time. The RAF Puma upgrade was I believe not a wise move. It would have been better to buy new Cougars, or more Chinooks or Blackhawks or whatever. But this is not so much of an upgrade and more a restoration to how the helicopter was designed to be in the first place. The folding rotor is straight off the naval version and the folding tail over the rear ramp is what the Italians have had from day one. The only new bits I think are the new Comms system… Read more »


SR -I am ok with your view on this, but an £18m upgrade for a product that costs circa £20-£30m new is hardly value for money. We could have kept these and bought some new ones to this configuration. I am not berating the helicopter, I am sure they will be excellent platforms and used extensively, but these decisions to upgrade (over a lengthy period of time) when we can buy new cheaper just does not make sense. £388m would surely get 15 new Merlins or 30 new Apaches (at the current unbelievable price). I really just think this is… Read more »


Not sure a reputable journal should be taken in by and repeating the Minister’s misninformation about these helicopters being in any meaningful sense “New”


I think nh90s or Blackhawks should have been purchased for the army these could have worked out cheaper and given great lift support (apparently the raf blocked this as the aircraft would have been too capable for the army) and the wildcat should have had slight increase in numbers for the RN. I think the merlin mk4 was the correct decision to go to the marines as the raf didn’t really want it. I think the raf should have a few more chinooks to replace the pumas or ideally if money was no object v22 ospreys and/or also perhaps received… Read more »


Simon The apaches are probably the most overused piece of equipment of the last 20 years, alongside chinook I would imagine. Given that their price point is now at a similar level to a tank and given the UK is looking at strike brigades I think it makes sense to swap our 300 tanks for a much larger apache force (say 260) Yes they have limitations, but so do tanks and until the next gen tank comes out we could move to a strike brigade based upon boxer and apache that would be really ground breaking. Modernising defence means we… Read more »


Pacman27 The problem is that tanks hold ground – if the apache was the panacea to everything the Russians wouldn’t have developed the armata and all armies wouldn’t be investing in keeping mbts going and starting to plan replacements – the end of the heavy armoured has been predicted since pre 2000 yet no army worth it’s salt has got rid off them. The other issue around the Apache is the cost and practicality of training pilots. The apache in particular requires elite pilots as the helicopter can provide so much information it can overload the pilot. I would think… Read more »


Fair point Simon, but flawed. The UK is incapable of holding ground against a near peer (we didn’t even hold ground in Afgahnisatan in areas we were allocated tbh). What an Apache can do is slow an advance until our NATO allies can mobilise. I am not against tanks, just think I would go with strike brigades supported by something lethal that can move quickly, clearing the way for the boxers/Ajax. It’s my version of agile blitzkrieg. Totally get your point on heavy armour, but as an island we are unlikely to deploy in UK and maybe we work with… Read more »

Ex whl grubber

Mk4 Merlin still without weapons? no LZ suppression such as chain gun or 2 inch RPs ? They could easily be slung on the sponsons. in addition there were 72 RN Merlins and 62 Army Apaches built. Where have they all gone?

Daniele Mandelli

There were never 72 RN Merlins built.

RN took delivery of 44 Merlin, replacing Sea King in ASW role.

Army got 67 Apache.


Anyone know why the decision was made not to deploy the challengers to Afghan? I can’t see them having been that useful in the situation but equally in the commanders are asking for them surely you deploy and see.

Every report of failure in Iraq/ Afghan either point to equipment unsuited for modern war fare or lack of helicopters. It’s insane that we haven’t invested heavily in them.


Steve, Several other nations took tanks and whilst it seems overkill, there must be a reason (I suspect the range of engagement of a tank shelling positions is one. The story about our guys taking over the danish position at Musa Qala must never, ever happen again. I am very proud of our military, but our politicians need to stop grand standing on the world stage or fund the services that allow them to do that. Why would you send 88 lightly armed guys in to replace a heavily armed force that was struggling. It just doesn’t make sense and… Read more »


but what was the reason for not sending? I can only think that it was fear of collateral damage / optics of tanks


Sorry I dont know, but if they have been requested by the force commander, they should have been sent. It really is that simple for me.

So many wasted lives due to poor equipment and decisions. Yet no one held accountable, seems to be the way these days.

Daniele Mandelli

“Politicians need to stop grandstanding on world stage.”

Bravo Pacman. Bravo.

I’m all for UK being a major power as a P5 member but that comment goes right to the heart of the matter.

HMG won’t pay. And the huge defence budget we have is undermined by incompetence, poor decisions, and successor in core budget.


Unfortunately Daniele, its service men and women’s lives they are risking.

It’s about time they got a grip on their costs (same for most departments actually), decide what is important, fund that correctly and come to the party prepared.

What the British public dont know is that the British forces in Afghanistan’s nickname was the borrowers… totally demoralising and ridiculous given our funding.

Time to stop grandstanding whilst you send people into a war zone in an unprotected Land Rover.

Ernest Harrison

The ‘ Commando Merlin Mk4, ‘

I notice some are for the new carriers. I wonder if this is good news or not.

Looks that the Commando Merlin Mk4, aboard the carriers could spell the end for HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark…

I hope not but to use carriers to put ashore is dangerous for the carriers near land that don’t even have credible self defence..