The Royal Air Force today announced the replacement of its fleet of PUMA helicopters. As Airbus Helicopter's Caracal prepares to take on the AW-149 from Leonardo UK on its home turf, the surprise could come from the Americans...
The Royal Air Force is looking for a replacement for its venerable Pumas
Put into service since 1971, the Puma of the Royal Air Force have experienced all the British engagements of the last 50 years (Northern Ireland, Falklands, Iraq, Afghanistan, Belize, Mozambique, Jamaica, Zimbabwe...). Twenty-four of these aircraft were upgraded to the Mk2 standard from 2012 (new Malika 1A1 engines, glass cockpit, digital flight control, secure communications) to last until 2025. With 23 of these aircraft now in service, the RAF is beginning its search for a worthy successor.
Europeans on the offensive
Presented on February 23, the replacement program will be called NMH (New Medium Helicopter). While details have not yet been released, several helicopter manufacturers are already battling it out. Airbus Helicopter is offering not only the H225M Caracal, a legitimate descendant of the Puma, but also its latest H175, from the civilian range, which would be militarized on occasion. Indeed, this 8T aircraft will offer a good compromise for support and servicing missions. For its part, Leonardo UK (formerly Westland) is offering its 9T AW149, and assures that it will be produced in Somerset.
The American runway
In July 2020, the British Minister of Defense signed a framework agreement with the Pentagon, covering in particular the FLRAA (Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft). This vast program, which pits the Sikorsky/Boeing SB1 Defiant against the Bell V-280, aims to replace the UH-60 Blackhawk by 2035. The DOD is committed to sharing features and information related to the future contract for the purpose of a joint purchase. Although these aircraft will not be available for another decade, a final upgrade of the Pumas could provide a bridge until the arrival of the U.S. helicopter. However, if the airframes still have a minimum of potential.
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