With a new £300m contract awarded to Safran Helicopter Engines UK, the Royal Navy’s fleet of Merlin helicopters is poised to see increased availability and operational efficiency, ensuring a sustained capability for maritime roles.

Set to span six years and extend to 2030, this partnership aims to deliver uninterrupted support for the RTM322 engines powering the Merlin helicopters.

While the primary focus of the contract is to optimise the Merlin helicopters’ availability, Minister for Defence Procurement James Cartlidge emphasised the role these aircraft play in safeguarding global deployments.

“The versatile Merlin has been a workhorse for the Royal Navy for years, protecting and supporting global deployments. This new support contract will increase the mission availability of the Merlin so it can continue hunting submarines, conducting maritime patrols, ferrying troops, and evacuating casualties.”

According to GlobalData’s intelligence on the UK defence market, the Merlin helicopter can be deployed from the Type 26 frigate and the future Fleet Solid Support (FSS) Ships auxiliary vessels.

Keith Bethell, Director of Helicopters at Defence Equipment and Support, underscored Safran’s contribution to maintaining the operational efficiency of the RTM322 engine. During the years, the Merlin has proved to be an outstandingly versatile asset to the armed forces, and Safran’s expertise has contributed to that success through meticulous support for the RTM322 engine.”

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Notably, the contract secures over 30 high-skilled jobs in the UK, predominantly in Fareham, reaffirming the commitment to sustain and nurture domestic talent in the aerospace industry.

The Merlin helicopter, available in two variants—MK2 and MK4—is part of the Royal Navy’s fleet. The MK2 variant is an anti-submarine warfare asset equipped with radar and sonar systems. It fulfils maritime patrol, troop transport, and search and rescue operations. Since its induction into service in 2014, the Merlin MK2s have been integral to naval platforms, including carriers, destroyers, frigates, and support vessels.

Moreover, the MK4 variant, tailored for Royal Marine operations, has specialised features such as a fast-roping beam for swift deployment of Special Forces. These helicopters, powered by Safran’s RTM322 engines, have been a mainstay in the Royal Navy’s operational capabilities, contributing to the nation’s maritime force projection and security initiatives.

Late in 2022, Leonardo, in collaboration with the UK Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), completed upgrade work on the Royal Navy’s Merlin helicopter fleet, extending its operational life until 2030 under the Merlin Life Sustainment Programme (MLSP). The upgrades on 25 helicopters, including Mk3 and Mk3a variants, elevated them to Mk4/4a standard.