DEFENCE Minister Guto Bebb announced the delivery of the first of a fleet of new helicopters this week designed for Royal Marine aircraft carrier operations.
He was speaking at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, where the helicopters will be based when not out on operations.
The helicopter, known as the Commando Merlin Mk4, has been upgraded to a faster and more powerful aircraft than its predecessor.
It now sports a maritime grey coat, has a folding main rotor and tail, upgraded flight controls and a tactical computer.
The modifications are designed to ensure it can now operate from sea, and it will take off from ships including the UK’s new 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth.
A total of 25 Commando Merlin aircraft will be delivered to the air wing of the Royal Marines, the Commando Helicopter Force, who will use them to deliver troops and supplies from sea to land.
Mr Bebb said:“This new version of the Merlin will provide an essential bridge between sea and land for our Marines operating from ships, including our brand-new aircraft carriers.
“This fleet will deliver troops and supplies to the centre of the action, be that a conflict zone or the site of a humanitarian disaster, as well as providing search and rescue cover.
“Flown from the Yeovil factory to now be homed here, this is another way defence is supporting the South West, where we spent over £5bn last year – more than any other region in the UK.”
The Commando Merlin Mk4 aircraft, an upgrade from the Merlin Mk3 standard, are being delivered through a £388 million contract between the MOD’s Defence Equipment and Support and Leonardo Helicopters, supporting 175 skilled jobs at Leonardo in Yeovil, and a further 500 across the UK supply chain.
Last year the MOD’s highest spend per person in the UK was in the South West, where £920 was spent for each member of the population – totalling around £5,079,000,000.
Defence spending in the region also supported one in every 60 jobs here – the highest proportion of jobs support by MOD expenditure in the UK, totalling 33,500 jobs.
The delivery will allow air crews to familiarise themselves with the Commando Merlin before they enter service, expected in the summer.
They have been acquired to replace the veteran Sea Kings. Colonel Lenny Brown, commanding the Commando Helicopter Force, said it marked the start of a new era of Commando support operations.