Merlin helicopters are tasked with anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare as well as troop carrying, casualty evacuation, medium lift and search and rescue duties.

Kevan Jones, MP for North Durham, asked via a Parliamentary written question:

“To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what the retirement dates are for the Royal Navy’s Merlin helicopters.”

Jeremy Quin, Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence, responded:

“The Royal Navy’s Merlin Mark 2 and Mark 4/4A helicopters are currently planned to go out of service in 2029 and 2030 respectively. The Ministry of Defence keeps the out of service dates for all equipment under regular and routine review.”

The Royal Navy say on their website that Merlin Mk2 entered service in 2014 as an upgrade for the original 1990’s Mk1 naval version. Its role is supply the UK’s Maritime Force Protection and airborne anti-submarine warfare capability for the foreseeable future.

Additionally, the Merlin Life Sustainment Programme upgraded 25 Merlin Mk3/3a to a Mk4/4a specification. Modifications included new cockpit avionics, and limited ship optimisation, including a folding main rotor head and folding tail.

Our reporter Henry Jones spent a day getting to know the new Merlin Mk4 with 845 Naval Air Squadron at RNAS Yeovilton. You can read more about that by clicking below.

Exclusive inside look at the Royal Navy’s upgraded Merlin helicopter

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Sceptical Richard
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Sceptical Richard

If the out of service date is 2029 we’d better get our skates on finding a replacement soon! Somehow i doubt that date will be adhered to and the aircraft will undergo another LEP.

Gunbuster
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Gunbuster

Probably. How long was the Sea King in service for something over 40+ years.

David
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David

The Merlin came into service in 1999 so will have done 30 years by 2029. Fully expect this to be stretched by at least 10 years….

Graham
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Graham

They’ve got another 10 years in them at least, so I’d put the OSD after 2040. The 2029/30 is nonsense

Julian1
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Julian1

Sea king had additional orders throughout its life, to the late ‘80s anyway. Merlin hasn’t

Lee1
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Lee1

We need more of these. They are excellent aircraft and w have nothing to replace them. We need new orders for more of them and we need to look to upgrade the ones we have to keep them in service longer. The blackhawk is a much older design and is still going strong. The Merlin has many years left in it if we do it right.

geoff
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geoff

Sad that ‘Westland’ are now just another foreign owned appendage. they should be designing the Merlin replacement now for the RN and the world!

Cam
Guest
Cam

Such a shame! People online keep telling me I’m wrong Saying wildcats a British chopper, and they say wildcats Italian!!! We should get BAE to buy it but they’ll probably mess it up! And from lots of accounts the factory has a good future building Italian choppers! Sad we british have lost another BRITISH crucial asset.

George Royce
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George Royce

Agree Cam. Sad how our industries are being destroyed and the politicians are only too happy to see them go.

Robert Blay
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Robert Blay

And we live in a global economy, Not everything has to be British owned, and we make far more then Italy overall. Big picture stuff.

Cam
Guest
Cam

I know it’s a global economy and buying and selling’s all part of it, but Germany doesn’t sell of its brands easily When ever a buyer pops up, they keep them German and in Germany and invest and then lead the globe. We should have thought Long and hard before selling of our big names! For example ERF trucks (not a huge name I know) were supposed to be building the armys 8,000 new trucks but MAN bought ERF and closed the UK factory and the armys trucks were made by MAN Germany. Granted they are probably better trucks but… Read more »

Robert Blay
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Robert Blay

We are still the world’s 5th largest industrial sized economy, we still make plenty of stuff. With the 2nd largest aerospace sector, and 2nd largest defence sector as a whole. Our globalised economy is what allows us to punch above our weight. And London is still the 2nd largest financial centre in the world,. We also have the 2nd largest foreign investment, ie, British companies operating overseas. It isn’t all bad mate.

AlexS
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AlexS

Well to have industries you need to vision and people willing to do the work.

Nicholas
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Nicholas

On the topic of British made products or lack of. The Imported to Canada HP sauce is now made in Holland not Britain. At least Pataks curry sauces are still made in Britain.

geoff
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geoff

Hi Cam. One way back for the UK in these industries is to acquire back some shareholding-even as minority shareholders. I am sure there remains much British influence at Agusta but holding Equity is critical. JLR, Airbus and Rolls Royce Autos are among the names that we should look to reinvest in

Lee1
Guest
Lee1

Who should be reinvesting in them? We have a culture of quick wins in our business environment. No British company is going to invest in them if they are not going to see instant financial benefit (normally in selling for a profit). Of course our government could bring in stricter laws on the sale of British companies to foreign investors but then that would go against their policy of seemingly selling everything to China…

Paul.P
Guest
Paul.P

Yes, our culture of short term profit is the problem. Its killing us….literally.
The French for example had a national industrial strategy to grow the aerospace sector, fostering those technologies they were good at and acquiring those they lacked. Result…Eurocopter, NH90, Airbus, Rafale….

BB85
Guest
BB85

The French, Italian and German government maintain share holdings in all of their strategic industries. UK governments always sell the family silver to avoid spending cuts or tax rises. The government still has a stake in BAE but that’s about it. The UK government should have blocked BAE divesting in airbus to focus on defense unless it was prepared to buy the shares itself.
Most of Leonardo’s work seems to be in the UK so how we ended up with no equity stake when BAE divested its holdings particularly in sensors technology is beyond me.

AlexS
Guest
AlexS

“Most of Leonardo’s work seems to be in the UK”

No but they have important work in UK.
Leonardo is giant conglomerate. From naval artillery to radars to helicopters.

Cam
Guest
Cam

Hi Geoff, talking of Airbus it really annoyed me when BAE sold their 20% stake in the company And I thought it was a huge mistake! But would we have gotten more work if they didn’t? Who knows. And JLR is another pet hate! Indians saying rang3 rovers and jags are all indian now annoys me! It’s still a british brand no mater who buys it,and people buy into the British brand for a reason. shame the Westland Brands gone.

geoff
Guest
geoff

Morning Cam. One thing Tata did to their credit is leave JLR’s design and builds in the UK. I think they appreciated the British build standard(despite some problems) and certainly did not want to see it drop to the level of your average appalling Tata vehicle. I drove a new one and the trim around the doors was literally falling off. The problem with selling control though is a you say, you lose any influence over the Company per your examples.

geoff
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geoff

ps International collaboration is not a bad thing though, and remember Westland have a history stretching back to the 50’s and 60’s in this regard. From memory, the Whirlwind and Wessex choppers were based on Sikorsky designs and then in the 60’s there was the Anglo French Helicopter consortium-from memory(without Google cheating) the Gazelle, Puma and Lynx? Got to keep the old brain active!!

AlexS
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AlexS

Sea King was also copy/based on Sikorski

geoff
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geoff

Indeed Alex

Sceptical Richard
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Sceptical Richard

BAE should have never left Airbus, but rather extended its interest in the company. Ah no, but it wanted to rather jump headlong into the US market and become a semi-American company instead. A golden opportunity was lost again under Tom Enders when he proposed a merger between BAE and Airbus a few years ago. The Brits were for it, the French and Spanish as well. Under the deal, BAE would have effectively become the centre for all of Airbus’ military business that wasn’t already in MBDA, and that’s why Angela Merkel vetoed it cause it would have placed lots… Read more »

geoff
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geoff

Yes the sale of the Airbus share was a huge mistake-effectively closing down British controlled Civil aviation construction

Bloke down the pub
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Bloke down the pub

I’d be happier seeing a tie up with Bell so that we’d have access to the V-280 and V-247

AlexS
Guest
AlexS

Tie up what with what? Westland was bought by Agusta.

Westland never had enough know how.
The only helicopter they build natively was Lynx.

I remind that Merlin was born by cooperation between Agusta and Westland.

But Agusta(now Leonardo Helicopters) had and has an huge civilian and corporate market something that Westland never did.
Agusta has A-109 an helicopter that have been continuously in production since 1976 and there are no signs of stopping and sold in thousands. Westland never had that capacity.

Paul42
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Paul42

With no planned replacement, and the fact that crowsnest is mounted on the Merlin, I would say they’ll be around a lot longer than 2029/30!

Bob P
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Bob P

Completely agree, I’ll be amazed if both the ASW (and ASAC in time) and Cdo Merlins aren’t extended well beyond their current out of service dates. They’re really good aircraft and the MCSP (Mk2) and MLSP (Mk4/4A) upgrades have also improved their reliability (less software gremlins mainly) so there’s no reason to get rid of them until there’s a sensible replacement for both marks of the platform.

spyintheskyuk
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spyintheskyuk

Yes can’t see that there will be a fundamentally superior helicopter solution by then if ever so as long as they can fly economically stick with them, I don’t see Crows Nest only flying for some 8 years if the present dates were to be believed. The only upgrade over time I reckon is going to be hybrid craft i.e. second gen tilt rotor or equivalent. Standard helicopters are pretty much at their limits now surely which is why so many old designs just continue to be in use with ongoing upgrades as cost and practicality allow.

WeeWill
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WeeWill

A helicopter is still going to look fundamentally like a Merlin in 2050, let alone 2030. As long as the airframes can hack it and capability on board is upgradeable, then stick with what we know. By a ‘on the back of a fag packet’ working-out, I reckon we have exactly the number of Merlins required for 1x carrier air wing contribution and to equip individually operating standing task assigned frigates / RFA. This would rely on unrealistically lean maintenance and allow for no attrition though. I’d like to see Merlin production restarted and 36x ordered to replace the Army’s… Read more »

Daveyb
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Daveyb

The Merlin is too big for the role that Puma undertakes. The RAF want a similar sized aircraft as its replacement.

BB85
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BB85

Yeah Leonardo Aw149 could replace the Puma easily enough. I’m curious though with these tilt rotar designs coming out of the US though, will they make the traditional designs completely obsolete with superior speed and range. The problem is the UK and Italy could never order enough to get EOS to compete with the US.

WeeWill
Guest
WeeWill

Really? I thought I’d read they asked for ‘medium lift’; and not knowing HELOs that well assumed a Merlin would fit the bill.

john melling
Guest

I don’t see us getting a replacement for Merlin until the mid-2030s
Its recent upgrades will see us through and another LEP may end up happening

But I do see the same company being prefered bidder but between now and the Merlin retirement as Geoff mentioned a replacement should or maybe is being designed.

It’s early days, but what do we want out of the replacement?

We may also have an expanded Navy by then (we hope) with decks to fill

Cam
Guest
Cam

They’ll be around untill the 2040s I’m guessing with upgrades obviously. We should start designing future merlin/ wildcat, atack helicopters ( on the lines of tempest) now and setup a new BRITISH factory to research and build them. We will need them so why not build them.

George Royce
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George Royce

Agree 100%

spyintheskyuk
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spyintheskyuk

I agree in theory but won’t happen in practice, remember the Thatcher Heseltine rumpus over Westland’s future and it was far more capable as a standalone then than it or any equivalent would be now. At the time I hoped that Bae would absorb it but clearly there was just no real chance of competing other than producing foreign designs the opposition is far too strong. Ask said recently on here the only way for such a small player to compete and grow is through bypassing the present incumbents through a change in concept and technology that gives new players… Read more »

Lee1
Guest
Lee1

The problem is that we never look to the future properly. The worlds airforces are looking for new jet trainers right now… What do we have to offer them as an export option? If we had started the process to design a new RAF jet trainers to replace hawk them we would have one to sell to others which would then also make ours cheaper! Same will happen with the Merlin replacement. We will wait until the last minute then scramble to get one designed (and have already lost sales to other countries) or just buy a foreign design. The… Read more »

Cam
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Cam

Yeah, only tempest is looking to the future and I’m still not Totaly convinced and that’s probably the best investment the governments going to give. We really need to look and design a future merlin and wildcat. I’m fine with keeping the yank Apaches and getting new models every other decade as they seem to be the best going.

Meirion X
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Meirion X

I agree, we should be looking to the future in new helos. We can only do it by investing in those British based companies, including by the MoD.

Meirion X
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Meirion X

Also I don’t Not think the MoD should be giving away R & D money free!

AlexS
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AlexS

Merlin was already a 50% foreign design, it was a joint venture between Westland and Agusta, the current owners.
So since 80’s when Merlin project started Westland have been dealing with Italians.

rec
Guest
rec

There are too few, so air frame attrition too great, ideally another 20 should be pushed, it would help jobs in yeovil. And provide enough for both carriers T26s and T45s. If the new builds could take in the anti durfacecroke too. This is to me a higher priority than trying to get Ospreys or even a faster f35 fit acquisition rate.

Daniele Mandelli
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Daniele Mandelli

Spot on.

ChariotRider
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ChariotRider

Why develop a completely new design? The Merlin still has a lot going for it as a basic concept and is very good work horse for the fleet. I’d like to suggest a modest updated Merlin design focused on eliminating obsolescence, reducing cost of ownership, etc.. My focus would be on keeping costs down, completing the development process on time and only allowing limited performance improves (possibly as a result of ‘market’ or ‘product’ lead improvements such as better engineers. In parrallel I’d keep the mission systems up todate, on a seperate project finance line, on the existing airframes then… Read more »

spyintheskyuk
Guest
spyintheskyuk

Been thinking upon similar lines myself, the reluctance to invest now will cost so many more problems in a decade (or sooner) if a whole new inevitably foreign replacement is required, it will cost a lot more and if it is going to offer more will cost immeasurably more with little to no benefit to British industry. But then what Govt even with all the evidence looks beyond ten years or puts long term excessive costs (or in its place deficiencies) before short term savings when it can make the former someone else problem. Its why we don’t have a… Read more »

Steve R
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Steve R

Spot on regarding the Merlins. If the only issue is that the airframes are getting long in the tooth (probably due to overuse because of so few airframes) then we should just build new, updated versions to replace the old ones.

Steve
Guest
Steve

Kinda depends on cost. As we know the order will be small and less than the current number, the build price of a new merlin would be high.

Might be better to just piggie back on another countries order to get the costs down.

However as there has been no talk of a replacement so far, you can guarantee that one of two things will happen, either we will have a capability gap for a decade or so, or we extend their life expectancy. Kinda guessing on a combination of the two.

Monty
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Monty

No chance they’ll be gone by 2030, given how long the Chinook and Puma fleets have been kept going I fully expect them to see service well into 2040.

Daveyb
Guest
Daveyb

Yep, the Chinook Mk5s and Mk6s are expected to go up to 2040. Some of the older Mk6As originally bought in the early 80’s will be pensioned off when the new ones come in.

Steve R
Guest
Steve R

Why not just replace the Merlin with more Merlins? Build new aircraft from scratch and install any upgrades in them.

As far as I can see there is no problem with Merlin, does exactly what we need it to, so might as well keep building new ones to replace the old… maybe add a few more as well to boost numbers.

JohnHartley
Guest
JohnHartley

Well many international AW 101 / Merlin are powered by T700 engines. The Americans are developing the follow on engine T900 (more power, economical,etc.) . I think a new build updated Merlin with T900 engines, would be a good choice circa late 2020s/early 2030s. We could do that with a tiny fraction of the money being hosed around for a few months benefit, by Rishi Sunak with probably no long term benefit, just an extra debt burden.

dan
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dan

Retirement? Didn’t the helos that the Merlin’s replaced last like 40 years?

Andy
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Andy

We need another example of long term, sustainable example here. No reason to think why that would not happen.

Andy
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Andy

sustainable production*

Glass Half Full
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Glass Half Full

A ten year LEP seems most likely, or at minimum five years. Aside from the likelihood that the Merlins are in good enough condition anyway, the MOD would welcome pushing out the significant additional cost of an all new replacement. A lot of competing projects for budgets over the next 10-20 years. Such a delay would also enable consideration of other significantly different and more versatile platforms. The Merlin Mk4 might be replaced with a USMC variant of the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft, e.g V-280, or if wishing to retain the higher troop loading of Merlin then a significantly… Read more »

Joe16
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Joe16

To be honest, I’d rather see more newbuild airframes and some LEPs, keeping or even expanding work at the Leonardo plant in Dorset or wherever it is. Same goes for Wildcat, and maybe a role for the AW-139 as a Puma replacement. As far as I’m aware it is a good platform that has already been optimised for the maritime envionment; with progressive avionics and engine upgrades it’s an easy match for anything out there that isn’t in the US FLV programme or an MV-22. Until those hybrid/pusher designs get on the scene, I don’t think the Merlin platform is… Read more »

Glass Half Full
Guest
Glass Half Full

Hi Joe, guessing from your comment that you might have been responding to me? In any event, Yeovil, Somerset for Leonardo. IIRC Leonardo were promoting AW149 for Puma replacement with a UK build.

Merlin and Wildcat are good for today’s needs. However, the issue in purchasing them new today or in the next decade is that we are locking the services into that platform for the next 30-40 years. This is a concern, already identified by the govt. in a House of Commons meeting on the UK’s future helicopter and articulated at least a couple of years ago by the Army.
https://www.flightglobal.com/british-army-flags-potential-interest-in-us-fvl-helicopter-programme/128228.article

AlexS
Guest
AlexS

Well you could always sell them.
The problem with waiting for the future is that you end up with nothing.

Glass Half Full
Guest
Glass Half Full

The problem with selling equipment early is that it makes it even more expensive unless we’re lucky enough to find someone with a desperate need for what we have when we want to sell it. If we’re talking about the British Army, then yes waiting tends to result in nothing and when they finally do make a decision, as with Ajax, its inconsistent with Strike Brigade strategy. Maybe committing to Boxer is finally turning things around. However, in the case of battlefield vertical lift we aren’t talking about incremental changes in capabilities by waiting to see what the US FVL… Read more »

AlexS
Guest
AlexS

I think it is pointless due to costs, i mean you can get some for special forces but that is it.

You’ll need Merlin or equivalent for frigates ASW.

Glass Half Full
Guest
Glass Half Full

Merlin HM2 for ASW is probably good out to 2040 with a 10 year LEP from current 2030 OSD, so no rush to replace. Probably same time-frame for Merlin Mk4. I commented further up on what we might see in future for ASW role, but yes I agree that current tilt-rotor tech is not suited to ASW.

Joe16
Guest
Joe16

Ah, Somerset! I have to admit to getting mixed up with the west country counties regularly… Fair enough, the AW149 is the better replacement option. I get what you’re saying about the dangers of locking into a technology that’s towards the end of its life, but I’m also mindful of how quickly we’d be expecting to jump onto something that the US military is only just considering. V-22, MH-53K, and F-35 took / are taking a long time to iron out the kinks, and I would expect the same thing with whatever FVL option they choose. I’m not sure we… Read more »

Glass Half Full
Guest
Glass Half Full

I agree that we should adequately evaluate risk on new tech. The V-280 Valor tilt-rotor has been flying for some time and is a derivative tech. from V-22 so less of a risk there IMO. The compound SB-1 Defiant on the other hand still seems to have quite a lot to prove. For me FVL is more about enhancing UK capabilities rather than a comparison of capabilities, either with allies or adversaries. For example, far greater ranges at much higher speeds than helicopters enable options otherwise not possible, especially if we launch that capability from a carrier.

AlexS
Guest
AlexS

I don’t think the frigates can receive something like that or the AW-609

Glass Half Full
Guest
Glass Half Full

A V-280 type of tilt-rotor where the engines do not tilt avoids deck heating issues. But its also an issue of aircraft weight versus deck load rating. For example the original Arrowhead-120 project specifically mentioned being V22 Osprey capable, Arrowhead-140/T31/Iver Huitfeldt does not, or at least I can’t recall mention of it.

For me FVL is more about Army over-land focused capability and Marines capability from carriers. But clearly if we want that same capability from smaller vessels then its something we need to take into account.

Glass Half Full
Guest
Glass Half Full

Oh and hybrid medium lift may not be so far off, with half scale UAV concepts about to start flying, with FAA civil certification planned for 2021.
https://www.sabrewingaircraft.com/cargo-uav/