Puma helicopters are due to be replaced under the British New Medium Helicopter acquisition (UK MoD)

BELFAST — The United Kingdom intends on buying an estimated 14 fewer aircraft than targeted for its New Medium Helicopter (NMH) program, according to a senior industry executive.

Nick Laird, managing director of European space and defence at Spirit AeroSystems, told lawmakers during a Northern Ireland Affairs committee hearing today that approximately 30 aircraft make up the NMH requirement, a cut of almost a third from the advertised upper limit of “up to” 44 rotorcraft.

“The number of aircraft for the UK military defence is circa 30, and we’ve just gone through an extended invitation to tender and we’re now in an invitation to negotiate (ITN) period,” said Laird of the rotary acquisition, which is valued at a maximum of £1.2 billion ($1.5 billion).

His comments are the second time in the span of 10 months that industry officials have publicly revealed a reduced buy is on the table after Lenny Brown, managing director of Airbus Helicopters UK, told Breaking Defense in July that the UK MoD want between 25-35 aircraft as a “kind of best effort with the funding available.”

NMH has been designed to source a replacement for Airbus Puma HC2 helicopters, though it was previously intended to also replace Bell 212, Bell 412 and Airbus Dauphin fleets. The Airbus H145 will, however, succeed the Bell types after the manufacturer was awarded a $152 million contract for six of the light-twin helicopters last month. The Dauphins, used by British Special Forces, are due to reman in service for the foreseeable future, according to Janes. Airbus referred comment about the future of the Dauphin fleet to the UK MoD.

The NMH ITN phase was first launched in February and is contested by Airbus’s H175M super-medium platform, Leonardo’s AW149 multirole helicopter and Lockheed Martin’s S-70M Black Hawk utility rotorcraft. Proposals are due to be evaluated through 2025 ahead of a production contract award in the same year. Spirit is part of the Airbus H175M supplier team for NMH, alongside Boeing, Babcock, Martin-Baker, and Pratt and Whitney Canada.

The UK MoD declined to comment on the exact number of aircraft it plans on procuring.

“Whilst release of the Invitation to Negotiate represents a significant step for the NMH programme, the competition remains sensitive, and the MoD cannot comment further,” it said in a statement.

Laird also revealed that Spirit is currently helping Airbus put together its ITN “submission.”

If the H175M was selected for NMH, Spirit would be involved “in detailed design activity and manufacture of major component assemblies in Belfast, [Northern Ireland]” dependent on “ongoing discussions” with Airbus, he noted.

Airbus also plans on setting up a new production line from Broughton, Wales, for the aircraft, should the company receive a NMH contract.