U.K. Defence Minister Welcomes First of New Carrier-Ready Helicopter Fleet
LONDON — U.K. Defence Minister Guto Bebb has announced in a May 24 release 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 United Kingdom’s new 65,000-ton aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth.
A total of 25 Commando Merlin aircraft will be delivered to the air wing of the Royal Marines — the Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) — who will use them to deliver troops and supplies from sea to land.
“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,” Bebb said. “This fleet will deliver troops and supplies to the center 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 defense is supporting the South West, where we spent over £5 billion last year — more than any other region in the U.K.”
The Commando Merlin Mk4 aircraft, an upgrade from the Merlin Mk3 standard, are being delivered through a £388 million contract between the Ministry of Defence’s 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 U.K. supply chain.
“DE&S is proud to have delivered the first Merlin Mk4 to the Royal Navy,” said Air Vice-Marshal Graham Russell, DE&S Director, Helicopters. “Today underscores that DE&S and their industrial partners are delivering. And delivering more with less, thanks to our effective change program 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.”
The delivery will allow air crews to familiarize themselves with the Commando Merlin before they enter service, expected in the summer. They have been acquired to replace the veteran Sea Kings.
When not deployed on operations the helicopters will be based at Royal Navy Air Station Yeovilton, the home of CHF since the unit was formed in 1997.
CHF, known as the “Junglies,” have served in a commando support role in theaters of operations including Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan.
It has the ability to fold the tail section, which has been completely rebuilt for the Mk4, and the rotor heads which assist flying from Royal Navy carriers in particular.
“Commando Helicopter Force provides aerial support to the Royal Marines, be they at sea, in an assault ship or in the sand and dust of Afghanistan,” said Col. Lenny Brown, RM, the officer commanding Commando Helicopter Force. “My air crews will soon begin training to fly the Commando Merlin from the Queen Elizabeth Class carriers, marking the start of a new era of commando support operations.”
The news was trailed by Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson earlier today, at the RUSI Sea Power Conference in London. While there, he also announced that all Type 23 frigates will be fitted with the Sea Ceptor air defense system – starting with HMS Argyll as she is deployed to the Asia-Pacific to visit ports across the region.