Leonardo wins crewless helicopter contract

The Ministry of Defence has awarded Leonardo’s Yeovil factory a £60m contract. It will enable the design and development of an uncrewed helicopter demonstrator for the Royal Navy. The work is expected to support 100 high skilled engineering jobs at Yeovil.

The three-tonne demonstrator will be less than a fifth of the weight of a Merlin helicopter. The new machine could provide an innovative alternative to existing aircraft for tracking adversary submarines.

It is designed to operate at lower cost than crewed aircraft whilst also reducing the exposure of Royal Navy personnel to hostile threats. The new helicopter would drop “sonobuoys” – small tube-shaped buoys that track and communicate submarine activity. This information can then be passed to a crewed helicopter to call for support if a submarine is located.

The project is expected to run for four years with a first flight planned for 2025.

Adam Clarke, Managing Director of Leonardo Helicopters (UK), notes: “Uncrewed VTOL aircraft will transform military capability whilst also having application in other market sectors. Both in the UK and around the world. This contract represents a major step towards our future in next generation uncrewed military technology and the sustainment of unique engineering skills onshore.”

It also puts Leonardo in the driving seat for future orders of this type of aircraft from the MoD.

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