LONDON – Leonardo Helicopters has taken a further step in strengthening its credentials as the home team in the United Kingdom’s upcoming New Medium Helicopter requirement, announcing nine local companies have joined its Team AW149 UK bid.

The company is Britain’s only helicopter builder and is touting its local credentials in the wake of the U.K. government’s pledge to sustain domestic strategic industrial capability in the Integrated Review, released earlier this year.

Leonardo said it already had 70 organizations in the local supply chain, and Nick Whitney, the boss of Leonardo Helicopters in the UK, said there were others in the pipeline.

Nine recent recruits to Team AW149 UK were highlighted by Leonardo including Abaco Systems, Aerco, Chelton, Ford Aerospace, Forged Solutions, Incora, LFD, RDDS Avionics and Techtest.

Whitney said that while winning the competition for the medium helicopter was not do-or-die for the Yeovil site, a decision in favor of another bidder would see Leonardo question the future levels of investment in Britain by the Italian-based company.

“My concern would be if our own MoD doesn’t show confidence in the rotary-wing provider which is already established in the UK, that does lead to questions,” Whitney said.

Leonardo has already committed to setting up a new assembly line at its Yeovil site in the south-west of England if the MoD selects the AW149 for its the medium helicopter requirement.

Whitney told reporters at the DSEI show here that the target was to reach 60 percent local content for the bid, but he hoped to get the figure up to 65 percent.

Leonardo is expected to be joined by Airbus Helicopters, Sikorsky and possibly others in the competition to replace Puma and three other helicopter types operated by the British.

Airbus, which already has a strong military and commercial helicopter presence in the UK, could assemble its H175 contender at its Broughton commercial wing building site in north Wales, according to media reports.

Sikorsky has yet to declare its hand.

Potential bidders are waiting for the MoD to detail the requirement and the procurement process but the final number of helicopters required could be substantial.

The timing of the competition is uncertain, although the MoD has said it wants to start taking the Puma out of service starting 2025.

Leonardo reckons an order from the British could result in a stream of export deals for the AW149. The company estimates a potential market of over 500 helicopters in the class is up for grabs over the next few years.

Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.

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