Call for ‘fair and open competition’ in race to win £1.2bn MoD helicopter contract for Airbus Broughton
A local MP has called for ‘fair and open competition’ in the race to win a £1.2bn contract from the Ministry of Defense (MoD) to replace the RAF’s fleet of Puma 2 helicopters and three other types of helicopters operated by the British Army.
Politicians, business and industry leaders gathered in Broughton on Friday to view Airbus Helicopters’ new H175M multiro
The UK government launched a competition in May for the New Medium Helicopter (NMH) program which could see up to 44 H175M helicopters purchased from Airbus by the MoD and with it a potential increase in jobs for the Broughton plant.
The H175M is designed to cover a wide range of typical missions such as utility/troop transport, special operations, medical evacuation, command control and SAR combat, depending on the list of optional mission elements selected by the customer.
The contract also includes five years of support, from training new pilots, flight crew and instructors to logistical and service support.
This is the helicopter that could bring hundreds of jobs to Airbus Broughton – the H175M pic.twitter.com/qAauDN2EOP
— DEESIDE.com (@DeesideDotCom) July 22, 2022
Broughton production plant
The size of the prize locally exceeds the value of the MoD contract.
The establishment of an H175M production plant in Broughton is a key part of Airbus’ proposal to the UK government, maximizing the social value of the project.
A new H175M manufacturing plant at Airbus Broughton will have the potential to create hundreds of new, highly skilled jobs in the region, both directly and within the supply chain.
Speaking to Airbus officials on Friday, it’s not entirely clear how much work will be done at Broughton if the bid is successful.
The basic H175 helicopter is made in France, but Lenny Brown, the boss of Airbus Helicopters UK and former commander of the Commando Helicopter Force, said: “Broughton will be a production line, the parts will come in and the planes will come out of the other side. .”
Lenny Brown, who has flown the H175M himself, said the most complicated aspect of the H175M “isn’t the helicopter itself, it’s all the mission systems, the communications systems, the defensive aid suites, weapon systems, etc. Airbus is “pretty exceptional in weaponizing helicopters.” He said.
Airbus is facing fierce competition for the contract, Leonardo is offering its AW149 which is already in operation with the Egyptian Navy, the Royal Thai Army and the Polish Army have recently ordered 32.
Like Airbus, Leonardo’s offer revolves around an offer with high social value. Its AW149 will be built in Yeovil, Somerset and around 70 UK companies will benefit from the supply chain.
American aircraft manufacturers are also in the running for the NMH contract, Bell is offering its 525 Relentless; Lockheed Martin, the S-70M Black Hawk and AceHawk Aerospace offer used and upgraded Black Hawk variants, although the company is based in the UK.
The UK government will announce the winner of the NMH in 2023 with first delivery and commissioning in 2025 in what has been described as an “accelerated timetable”.
This, however, depends on the Ministry of Defense timetable for the retirement and replacement of the Puma, which has yet to be fully announced.
At Friday’s event, Alyn and Deeside MP Mark Tami called on local politicians on all sides to fully support Airbus’ bid.
Airbus is already a major supplier of helicopters to the UK Armed Forces with the Puma, the RAF’s workhorse and the Dauphin which is used by UK Special Forces.
Airbus also supplies the H135 and H145 aircraft for the UK Ministry of Defence’s military flight training system, meaning that for over half a century every helicopter pilot in the UK has been trained on an Airbus helicopter.
BROUGHTON | The @AirbusHeli #H175M 🚁 draws admiring glances from #BelugaXL after making his first visit to @Airbus‘ Map of Flintshire today. Production of this super medium battlefield rotorcraft will come to Broughton if chosen to replace the RAF’s in-service Puma 2 fleet. pic.twitter.com/WQISnhRNts
— Airbus in the UK (@AirbusintheUK) July 22, 2022
But Airbus has been hit by wacky UK government procurement competitions in the past.
The Wedgetail aircraft program came under fire from MPs a few years ago, they were unhappy with the lack of competition to replace the RAF’s existing Sentry aircraft – known as its ‘eye in the sky’.
The Department of Defense has entered into “exclusive” talks with US aircraft manufacturer Boeing over the purchase of its E7 “Wedgetail” surveillance planes.
Airbus offered the Ministry of Defense a cheaper alternative solution based on its A330 jet and Saab’s Erieye radar. They considered mounting a legal challenge after being denied the opportunity to compete for the contract.
At the time, Mark Tami said it was a “real slap in the face” for Airbus as the UK government opted for Boeing.
On Friday, the MP for Deeside said if we have ‘a fair and open competition we can win it for Broughton and for North Wales, securing jobs, creating new jobs and jobs for young people also”.
He said: ‘Let’s all work together and campaign together, cross party, North Wales, North West, to make sure we bring this product to Broughton and we will work with Airbus, Airbus Helicopters and Unite Union to make sure it happens to us in North Wales.
Lenny Brown said that if Airbus won the MoD contract, the helicopter division would use Airbus Broughton as it is “a fairly short schedule, in terms of the helicopter program from standing start to first deliveries, so leveraging skilled labor will be really important. ”
Huge export opportunity
Airbus is also looking at global opportunities with the H175M and estimates that there could be a need for up to 500 helicopters in the Medium/Super Medium category worldwide.
These could again be built at the Broughton production site, “creating a sustainable program for years to come”, but, if the Ministry of Defense does not award Airbus the NMH contract, this work would go to the stranger.
Lenny Brown said: “Obviously a helicopter program of this complexity and scale is growth, it doesn’t just pop up, it doesn’t just start with all the people and technicians.”
“If we win the contract, we will begin training and recruiting people for the specialized skills required for the production line, testing and evaluation, and all other specialized capabilities required to manufacture this machine.”
“Obviously you don’t start with a lot of planes, there will be an increasing ramp for you to start with the 10 and 20 jobs and then it goes into the hundreds.”
The civilian variant of the H175 is “by far the most capable super medium aircraft on the market”, Airbus said. .
The H175M is very different from the civilian H175. It features military customization such as the addition of electro-optical/infrared sensors and self-defense countermeasures and a military interior, among others.
Winning the initial MoD order for Airbus would be seen as a ‘lighthouse’ by the rest of the world, “we have quite exceptional relationships with all sorts of countries and as a platform to export from the UK it would be strategically important not just for Airbus Helicopters but for ‘global Britain’, says Lenny Brown.
Broughton was seen as the obvious candidate given the facilities available and the pool of skilled workers available.
The specialist helicopter design process will largely be undertaken by the Airbus Helicopters UK team in Oxford.
Airbus Broughton plant manager Jérôme Blandin said “our strength lies in industrial systems, new developments and the challenges of developing new technologies”.
“As we potentially grow in the future, we can really leverage what we’re doing in the region in terms of working with some of the industry players and looking at increasing the number of apprentices to the future.”
In addition to new recruits, Jérôme Blandin said it will be “really exciting to offer this opportunity to part of the existing workforce ‘to learn new skills’.
Jérôme Blandin was unable to give a definitive figure on how many jobs would be created at Broughton if Airbus Helicopters were successful in the bid, “we need to understand the scope in terms of what the contract requirements would be” . He said.
“We’re going to work extremely hard to try and get this helicopter to Broughton,” said Darren Reynolds, senior union representative for Unite at Airbus Broughton.
He said: “It’s been difficult the last few years with the impact of Covid on the industry, we’ve lost jobs but we were coming back now and getting the H175M contract would be fantastic for Airbus at Broughton.”
“We have a highly skilled workforce here and it’s another exciting opportunity for people in North West and North East Wales to test their skills.” said Darren.
“The offer is obviously still in its infancy, but if we could get this work, we would not only produce the H175M for the MoD but also for export.”
“The work would develop even more diversity in what we do here in Broughton and help protect the site.” said Darren.
“As I told government ministers the other day, we’re a good bet here in Broughton, we’re doing exactly what we’re supposed to, on time and at the right cost.”
“So getting something like the H175M would be hugely exciting, we have to do everything we can to try to make sure we get that aircraft.” He said.