Lynx goes wild as first flight approaches

 - June 17, 2009, 10:12 AM

After a difficult period in which the whole program’s future lay in doubt, AgustaWestland’s Future Lynx has emerged with a new name–AW159 Lynx Wildcat–and renewed optimism. The aircraft was selected by the UK Ministry of Defence in May 2006 to fulfill its battlefield reconnaissance helicopter requirement for the British Army, and a surface combatant maritime rotorcraft requirement for the Royal Navy. The selection was made as part of a strategic partnership between AgustaWestland and the MoD.

At the time, the agreement envisioned an initial buy of 70 helicopters: 40 for the army and 30 for the navy. After a long hiatus, the MoD confirmed a revised order for 62 (34 army and 28 navy) in December 2008. Final assembly of the first copy had begun the previous month, and the airplane is slated to fly this November.

Deliveries to the customer are scheduled for 2011, and the Lynx Wildcat is scheduled to enter British Army service in 2014. The Royal Navy’s helicopters are due to begin operations in 2015, primarily serving aboard Type 22/23 frigates and Type 45 destroyers.

One weapon already penciled in for the Lynx Wildcat is the Thales lightweight multi-role missile (LMM). An assessment phase contract was awarded to Thales for the Future Air-to-Surface Guided Weapon (Light), as part of the UK’s wider Team Complex Weapons efforts, and a further contract to advance the program is expected before year-end.

The LMM can be fired from a variety of platforms, including ground posts, naval vessels, helicopters, vehicles and UAVs. It can also tackle an equally wide range of targets, including slow-moving aerial vehicles such as helicopters and UAVs. The two-stage rocket motor provides a “soft” launch that is critical for employment on UAVs. The LMM’s small warhead and confined blast pattern allows its use in areas where collateral damage has to be kept to a minimum. A laser fuze is fitted, offering  much better performance than standard RF fuzes against “soft” targets such as plastic-hulled boats and UAVs.

The LMM is being developed with laser beam-riding guidance only, but a semi-active laser is planned. Production deliveries for UK programs are planned for late 2011.