There may be those among us who view the formal handover of the AgustaWestland AW159 Lynx Wildcat to the U.K. Defense Ministry at last week's Farnborough air show as the beginning of the end for Britain's helicopter industry. After all, there are no new U.K. rotorcraft programs on the horizon.
But AgustaWestland doesn't see it that way. The Anglo-Italian company has established "a fully integrated U.K./Italian/Polish design team for the AW189 in the U.K.," says CEO Bruno Spagnolini. "We are bringing back a design capability in the U.K."
The Yeovil, U.K.-based team is designing the search-and-rescue (SAR) configuration for the AW189—the commercial version of the AW149 tactical transport—which is being proposed for the U.K.'s restaged SAR helicopter service (SAR-H) competition. "There will be full final assembly in the U.K, if the AW189 is picked," says Spagnolini.
Assembling the SAR AW189 in the U.K. is part of AgustaWestland's strategy to transform Yeovil "from a pure U.K. MoD company" to a business that gets 40% of its revenues from export and commercial sales, within two years.
"Traditional" Yeovil products like the AW159 Wildcat, and AW101 Merlin, will still play a major role in the company's fortunes. The AW159 is being offered in its first competitions in Denmark and South Korea, with others in the offing.
And the U.K. Defense Ministry will remain an important customer. Deliveries of the multi-role Wildcat (top) are under way to the British Army, and the Royal Navy will begin to receive the maritime version (below) in November. U.K. deliveries will continue to 2016.
The transfer of Royal Air Force Merlins to the Navy to replace Westland Sea King HC.4s is in the assessment phase, says Spagnolini, with a contract for their modification and marinization expected in 2014. A program to develop a "helicopter early warning" (HEW) version of the AW101 to replace the Navy's Sea King ASaC.7s is expected to begin around 2016, he says.
There is also the planned capability sustainment program (CSP) for the British Army's Yeovil-assembled WAH-64D Apache AH.1 attack helicopters, also now in the assessment phase. This could turn out to be a major modernization akin to the Block 3 upgrade of the Apache now entering service with the U.S. Army.