THE Ministry of Defence has made a statement on helicopter orders for the armed forces – which has implications for Yeovil-based AgustaWestland.

The announcement involves the MoD buying up to 24 Chinook helicopters from Boeing, placing a major new contract to convert RAF Merlin helicopters for use by the Royal Navy, canceling the Future Medium Helicopter and concentrating the future military helicopter fleet on just aircraft – Wildcat (Future Lynx), Merlin (EH101), Apache and Chinook.

And Mr Laws said: “I am pleased that the Ministry of Defence is acknowledging how important our helicopter capability is, but I will be pressing the Secretary of State to make amendments to some of the plans announced today.

“AgustaWestland has a current agreement with Boeing to construct Chinook helicopters under licence, and if more Chinook helicopters are needed then they should be built by Westland, and not in the United States.

“I welcome the new contract to convert Merlin helicopters for naval use, but I believe that more Merlin helicopters will be needed in the future.

“The current contract to upgrade the ageing Puma helicopter should be axed, and more Merlin helicopters should be ordered to replace the Sea Kings and Pumas.

“There is also a real question over whether we need as many as 24 new Chinooks, and my view is that the delivery of many of these aircraft will come after we have already completed operations in Afghanistan. The Ministry of Defence risks, as ever, being perfectly prepared to meet the requirements of the last war – when we should be planning for the future.

“The cancellation of the Future Medium Helicopter means that effectively the AgustaWestland Merlin helicopter will fill this role, without a need for a long and time-consuming competition. But more Merlin helicopters need to be ordered in the future to meet the needs of our armed forces.”

Mr Laws added: “I will now be requesting an urgent meeting with Defence Secretary, Bob Ainsworth, to discuss two issues – how we can complete as much of the work on the Chinooks as possible in Yeovil, and the need for an additional purchase of Merlins to replace the Pumas and Sea Kings.”