The first of 25 new Commando Merlin helicopters designed for Royal Marine aircraft carrier operations has been delivered, U.K. Defence Minister Guto Bebb announced.
The Commando Merlin Mk4 was upgraded to a faster and more powerful aircraft than its predecessor, a Thursday, May 25 Ministry of Defence release said. It also features a folding main rotor and tail, as well as upgraded flight controls and a tactical computer. The modifications ensure it can operate from ships including the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth.
“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 centre of the action, be that a conflict zone or the site of a humanitarian disaster, as well as providing search and rescue cover.”
The Commando Merlin aircraft are being delivered through a £388 million (€443 million) contract with and Leonardo Helicopters.
A total of 25 aircraft will be delivered to the Commando Helicopter Force, the Royal Marines air wing, and this first delivery will allow crews to familiarize themselves with the Commando Merlin before they enter service, which is expected this summer.
The helicopters will replace the veteran Sea King, and will be based at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton when not on operations.
“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,” Colonel Lenny Brown RM, the Officer Commanding Commando Helicopter Force said. “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.”
Earlier Thursday, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson at the RUSI Sea Power Conference announced that all Royal Navy Type 23 frigates will be fitted with the Sea Ceptor air defense system, starting with HMS Argyll.