David Cameron welcomes £350m South Korean Wildcat contract for Yeovil helicopter firm AgustaWestland
The Prime Minister has praised Yeovil helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland for winning its first export order for its Wildcat combat helicopters.
The South Korean Government has decided to buy eight of the helicopters to strengthen its Navy's ability to combat ships and submarines. The Asian country will receive four Wildcats in 2015 and four more in 2016, worth around £350m.
Prime Minister David Cameron said: "This announcement demonstrates Britain's ability to successfully compete in the global race.
"I'm delighted the Korean Government has chosen to continue its relationship with AgustaWestland in selecting this state of the art maritime helicopter which will help safeguard high quality jobs and skills in Yeovil and across the country.
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"The Royal Navy already enjoys a very close relationship with Korea, and I have no doubt that this decision will only strengthen further our essential bilateral relationship."
The Yeovil-based firm beat off competition from American rivals Sikorsky.
The helicopter is designed and constructed at the company's Lysander Road plant.
Bruno Spagnolini, CEO of AgustaWestland said: "This was a demanding competition, with an extensive evaluation of all the competitors, and demonstrates that the AW159 offers a winning combination of capability and value for money, even when competing against larger helicopters.
"We've had a long and successful partnership with the Republic of Korea Navy, which operates a large fleet of our Super Lynx helicopters, so we welcome their continued confidence in our aircraft and intend to build on this success in other export markets in future."
The South Korean Navy aircraft will be equipped with a wide range of mission equipment including an active dipping sonar, 360 degree scan radar, nose mounted electro-optical device and a rescue hoist.
It will also be equipped to carry anti-ship missiles, torpedoes and a door mounted gun. This will allow it to perform a wide range of roles, from both shore and ship bases, including anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, search and rescue, maritime security and maritime surveillance.
UK Trade and Investment Minister Lord Green said: "The Korean Government and its Defence Acquisition and Programme Administration conducted a thorough and transparent competition and the UK Government will do all it can to ensure a smooth introduction of AW159 into service with the Republic of Korea Navy."
AgustaWestland was the incumbent in South Korea, which has already bought 25 Lynx helicopters.
The UK Government is the lead customer for the Lynx replacement, with a £1bn contract for 34 Army and 28 Royal Navy Wildcats.
The British military will convert to its first brood of Wildcats later this year.
Yeovil MP David Laws welcomed the announcement which he said was a "boost" to the local economy.
He added: "I congratulate all those at AgustaWestland who have helped to win this important contract, which will secure hundreds of jobs for people in Yeovil and throughout the country.
"It is extremely impressive that AgustaWestland has won this contract against stiff opposition from international competitors, and demonstrates the strength and quality of the manufacturing workforce that we have in Yeovil and throughout the UK.
"This is also great news for the Wildcat programme and can only be good for our prospects of securing further business."