The UK Ministry of Defence and Lockheed Martin UK announced on May 22 that Thales has been selected to provide the radar and mission system for the Royal Navy’s new airborne surveillance and control capability, which will be installed on Merlin HM2 helicopters under the Crowsnest project. These helicopters will act as the Royal Navy’s eyes and ears for its next generation Queen Elizabeth-class carriers, giving long-range air, maritime and land detection, as well as the capability to track potential threats.
Crowsnest will also be able to support wider fleet and land operations, replacing the Sea King ASAC7 airborne surveillance and control capability, which has been operational since 1982. Lockheed Martin UK will now conclude the project’s £27 million assessment phase, expected to be completed in 2016, supported by Thales and AgustaWestland, the manufacturer of the Merlin helicopter onto which the system will be fitted.
Once a decision on the manufacturing phase has been taken, it is expected that around 300 jobs will be sustained across these companies in Crawley, Havant and Yeovil. Philip Dunne, Minister of State for Defence Procurement, said: “It is essential that our ships and particularly our future aircraft carriers will have the best possible protection. The Crowsnest system onboard our new Merlin Mk2 helicopter will deliver an essential surveillance and intelligence capability, providing early warnings to our personnel of any potential threats. The progress on Crowsnest complements the wider Queen Elizabeth Class carrier programme and shows that we are moving ever closer to providing this 21st century Carrier strike capability for the Royal Navy.”
Air Vice-Marshal Julian Young, Director Helicopters at the MOD’s Defence Equipment and Support organisation, said: “We have accelerated our programme delivery strategy in order to sustain the capability seamlessly through our Merlin Mk 2 helicopters as the Sea King Mk 7 fleet retires from service in 2018, and we are confident that the programme will be delivered as planned.”
The Thales solution is an updated, improved and repackaged role-fit version of the Cerberus tactical sensor suite currently in service on the Sea King ASAC7 helicopter. The design comprises of a single mechanically scanned radar head which uses an innovative system to provide 360° visibility from the underside of the helicopter and which folds up to the side of the aircraft when not in operation.
Crowsnest will not be a permanent fit, but all Fleet Air Arm Merlin HM2s will be configured so that they can operate with the system. Ten Crowsnest systems are to be acquired, but only eight will be fitted to Merlin helicopters at any one time. Alan Warnes