HC Deb 19 December 2000 vol 360 cc91-2W
Mr. Quentin Davies

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the consequences for the coming into service of the Merlin helicopter of the recent loss of a Merlin aircraft. [143332]

Mr. Spellar

The Merlin HM Mk1 achieved its defined In-Service Date in March 1999 on delivery of the twelfth aircraft. Production continues and deliveries are scheduled until March 2002 when aircraft number 44 is due.

Following the recent accident involving a Royal Navy Merlin Mk 1, military flying of Merlin was suspended pending the results of the accident investigation and Board of Inquiry (BOI).

A combined Ministry of Defence and industry review team has completed a thorough analysis of airworthiness and recommended an early resumption of flying, subject to the successful completion of the current programme of checks and inspections. A phased resumption of flying is expected to commence this week once individual aircraft are cleared for flight through a process of physical and documentary checks.

The temporary suspension of flying activities has delayed the achievement of the required training flying rate and introduced a six week delay to the aircraft clearances issued by the Defence Evaluation Research Agency (Boscombe Down). Both delays are at present manageable.

The Merlin Mk 3 met its In-Service Date in June 2000 on delivery of the sixth aircraft and is currently undergoing a programme of Military Aircraft Release trials. As a result of the accident involving the Merlin Mk 1, the official handover ceremony at RAF Benson that was planned for November 2000 has been postponed and will not rescheduled until the resumption of military flying. However, it is currently assessed that the Merlin Mk 3 will enter operational service with a basic military capability in June 2002, as planned.

Mr. Quentin Davies

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if the Merlin helicopter can provide sufficient sea-to-land lift capability for future amphibious operations. [143333]

Mr. Spellar

The Royal Navy's Merlin Mk1 aircraft is primarily an organic Anti-Submarine Warfare variant of the Anglo-Italian EH101 helicopter. Although it offers some lift capability, it is unlikely to be tasked for amphibious operations. The Mk 3 aircraft, designed to carry troops or a range of vehicles or underslung loads, will provide a major element of the Joint Helicopter Command's support helicopter capability. However, it is designed for use in battlefield, and not amphibious, operations. The UK's current amphibious lift capability is provided by the Sea King Mk 4, with occasional support from the RAF Chinook Mks 2 and 2A, while a small-scale lift capability is provided by the maritime Lynx Mks 3 and 8.

It is currently planned that the Support, Amphibious and Battlefield Rotorcraft (SABR) programme will provide the UK's future medium and heavy amphibious and battlefield lift capability from 2009. A Merlin variant is one of a number of possible solutions to this programme.

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