The UK has received the delivery of the first AW101 Commando Merlin Mk4 helicopter during a ceremony at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, Defence Procurement Minister Guto Bebb has announced.

Leonardo has provided the aircraft under a £388m deal that was awarded by the UK Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S).

The delivery forms part of Leonardo’s Merlin Life Sustainment Programme (MLSP) contract, which covers the conversion of a total of 25 former Royal Air Force (RAF) Merlin helicopters into fully marinised amphibious support Commando Merlin aircraft.

“The delivery of the first Commando Merlin marks the culmination of over four years of design, development and manufacturing effort by Leonardo here in the UK.”

The completed helicopters are planned to be used by the air wing of the British Royal Marines, the Commando Helicopter Force (CHF).

CHF intends to use the Commando Merlin aircraft to deliver troops and supplies from sea to land.

Leonardo Helicopters UK managing director Geoff Munday said: “The delivery of the first Commando Merlin marks the culmination of over four years of design, development and manufacturing effort by Leonardo here in the UK.

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“The result is the world’s most advanced and capable amphibious support helicopter that can fly faster, further and carry much more than the now-retired Commando Sea King, delivering a greatly enhanced capability to the CHF.”

Commando Merlin Mk4/4A helicopters have been designed for ship operations and are fitted with automatic, folding main rotor blades and tails, as well as upgraded undercarriages and improved cabin safety features.

Furthermore, the helicopters are equipped with an advanced technology cockpit that was originally developed by Leonardo for use on the British Royal Navy’s Merlin Mk2 aircraft.

The aircraft upgrades will help ensure that the helicopter can operate from the sea, in addition to being capable of taking off from the Royal Navy’s vessels, including the newest 65,000t HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier.

The helicopter will be supported via the existing Integrated Merlin Operational Support (IMOS) programme that has been designed to provide increased aircraft availability and significant cost savings for UK taxpayers.