LONDON — Britain's Joint Helicopter Command wants to extend the out-of-service date of its Puma helicopter fleet to harmonize with the expected withdrawal of the Merlin, according to Maj. Gen. Richard Felton, the force's commander.

"It would be nice when defense looks at future medium lift if we could right across the piece look at replacing the Puma and Merlin at the same time. We would like to extend the 2025 [out-of-service date] to 2030 or 2035," Felton told reporters following a speech at a rotorcraft conference at London's Excel Centre where the DSEI defense show opens Tuesday.

The British operate medium-lift Pumas alongside a fleet of Merlin helicopters now starting to be converted from a battlefield support role to amphibious lift for Royal Marine commandos. The British also operate a large fleet of Chinooks.

Airbus Helicopters secured a contract in 2009 to substantially update British Puma helicopters in a £250 million (US$385.7 million) program adding new engines, glass cockpit and other modifications to 24 machines.

Pumas are now deployed in Afghanistan supporting Britain's training effort and doing a fantastic job, Felton said.

The JHC commander's remarks followed a speech where he said that a study looking at air maneuver future capability out to 2045 and beyond was drawing to a close.

Felton told the audience of military and industry personnel that the capability study is due to go to a four star governing board in the next couple of months

"In terms of medium lift what we would like to do is look at what we have in defense including Merlin and see if we can harmonize our capability so that when we introduce a replacement there is some sort of synergy," he said.

Felton said the capability study would allow the JHC to better understand the future rotor craft requirements and options and provide insights and ultimately choices for rotary wing choices beyond 2045.

Part of the work is focused  on "determining future opportunity and decision points such that current capabilities can be sustained but managed appropriately to be replaced by alternatives that better meet future needs," he said.


Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.

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