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29 January 2014, 16:09
Thousands of jobs have been secured after a helicopter company with a base in Suffolk signed a new deal with the Ministry of Defence.
The £760m investment in Merlins and Apaches, announced by the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, will secure highly skilled, technical posts at sites across the UK.
A £430m contract will provide maintenance and support for the Army’s Apache attack helicopter, which is currently used on operations in Afghanistan, for the next five years.
The additional £330m investment will see the RAF’s Merlin Mk3/3a helicopters upgraded for use by the Royal Navy’s Commando Helicopter Force.
The expert work will be carried out by AgustaWestland at its sites in Yeovil, Suffolk and Hampshire, sustaining as many as 537 jobs within the company. A further 500 jobs will be protected in the supply chain at GE Aviation in Cheltenham, General Dynamics in East Sussex, Selex ES in Luton and APPH Aviation Services in Cheshire.
During a visit to AgustaWestland’s factory, the Defence Secretary met with apprentices who are working at the company and will play an important role in the work on the Merlins and Apaches.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said:
“The UK defence industry makes an important contribution to the economy, generating revenue of over £22 billion each year and its highly skilled workforce plays a crucial part in growing our economy. This investment will help secure British jobs, providing security to thousands of workers and their families.
“This is also an important step in ensuring our Armed Forces have the best helicopters available, safeguarding the Army’s Attack Helicopter capability and providing the Royal Navy and Royal Marines with an upgraded, modern Commando Helicopter Force.”
The 25 upgraded Merlin helicopters will replace the Sea King Mk 4 helicopters, which go out of service in 2016. The work will involve fitting new glass cockpits and avionics, a folding main rotorhead and tail, and improved undercarriage. The Merlins will be used to transport Royal Marines, vital supplies and cargo from sea to land.
The Apache contract will provide operational support for the helicopters for the next five years, ensuring they are able to play a key role post Afghanistan.