Britain could begin production of the Sikorsky S-70M Black Hawk medium helicopters in the near future. So far, the deal is valued at over $1 billion to acquire between three and four dozen medium-sized helicopters, which will most likely replace the British Puma HC2s. Production in the UK, however, of the renowned air defense brand would provide London with a chance to export to both the European and international markets.
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Paul Lemmo, the head of Sikorsky [a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin] spoke about this on June 1st, making it clear that such a possibility [domestic production] is part of the company’s strategy. But Mr. Lemmo confirmed that it is still too early for definitive answers and decisions. “The company is waiting for the [British] requirements to be revealed,” he replied succinctly.
Sikorsky believes that their S-70M Black Hawk will be more than successful and will meet British requirements. The future medium helicopter is expected not only to replace the aging Puma HC2 helicopters, but also some squadrons of the Royal Air Force equipped with another American flagship – Bell 212, Bell 412, and AS365 Dauphin.
However, the race will not be easy for the Americans. Two European companies [Airbus and Leonardo] have also applied and are ready to set up production lines on the island. The H175M helicopter model that Airbus offers to London. The company is even ready to start production in Broughton, Wales. There is a manufacturing facility there that is committed to manufacturing key components for the A380, such as the aircraft’s wings.
Italian from Leonardo, one of the most famous international helicopter companies in the world, known for quality, safety, and design offers the British AW149. Leonardo will also meet British requirements and is ready to start building a production line in the Yeovil area of England.
However, Mr. Lemmo [Sikorsky] did not want to please the British industry, leaving quite a bit of bitterness in his speech. Sikorsky will probably have to do the same as the other two companies, but according to Sikorsky’s boss, “it’s too early to go into too many details.” “Obviously we’ll have to wait and see exactly how much they need to be accelerated and whether we can hit their target, but there are levers we can use to accelerate delivery,” he said.
Lemmo and Sikorsky’s silence about Sikorsky’s production on the island may not serve the Americans well. Britain wants future medium helicopters for the Royal Air Force to be produced precisely on the “correct side of the British Channel”. If Sikorsky relies more on production in Poland and the PZL Mielec plant, where the S-70i export variant of the UH-60 Black Hawk is currently produced, this will not meet the requirements of the British industrial strategy.
For years, this strategy has been clear – close cooperation with local production, if possible, guaranteeing the entire production on the island. New jobs have always been a priority for the British government, regardless of which of the party leaders is at the helm of the island. Of course, it should also be viewed from the point of view of the Americans. Many experts predict that new production on the island by Sikorsky means a much larger investment by Lockheed than by Airbus and Leonardo.
It is not only the decisions of the suppliers that will influence such a decision. Even if Sikorsky guarantees local production, the second key factor is the lifespan of the Puma HC2 helicopters. London is making plans to retire these war machines by 2025.
Yes, there are signals that this could happen at a later stage, for example, 2027-2028, but a factory before it starts working has to be built. It also takes time and money, as well as unforeseen force majeure.
At the same time, London will have to be very careful in choosing a supplier for the medium-class helicopters that the Royal Air Force needs. Here, for example, is Leonardo’s Italian AW149 helicopter. The Italian company already has established end-to-end production of the civilian AW149 in Yeovil.
70 UK companies are involved in the supply chain of this helicopter. Rome even made a strong statement by promising London that this civilian AW149 could receive its military design in just 24 months from the day the contract was signed.
This means that serial production of the military AW149 can begin in 2025. A completely realistic timeline for the planned eventual life extension of the Puma HC2. So Lockheed Martin Sikorsky will have to hurry with their response. Not only to ensure the British Ministry of Defense’s security in their selection but also to ensure their own if they were eventually selected as the supplier of the medium helicopter.
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