The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced the go-ahead for production of the Crowsnest surveillance radar system for the Royal Navy’s Merlin HM.2 helicopters. Lockheed Martin UK is the system integrator, with Thales UK providing the radar and Leonardo (formerly AgustaWestland) Helicopters modifying the airframes. The contract is worth £269 million ($330 million).
The move follows selection of the Thales radar system in May 2015, and an assessment phase that cost £24 million ($29 million) and was completed last year. For Crowsnest, Thales is updating the Searchwater radar and Cerberus mission system that is currently fitted to seven Sea King Mk7 helicopters that perform the Airborne Surveillance and Control (ASaC) mission. The Sea Kings are being retired next year, but the replacement will not enter service for training until 2019, with initial operating capability to follow in the second quarter of 2020. The MoD is procuring 10 Crowsnest systems, and the entire Merlin HM.2 fleet will be modified to accept them.
The Crowsnest design consists of a single mechanically scanned radar head, which uses an innovative system to provide 360-degree visibility from the underside of the helicopter, which then folds up to the side of the aircraft when not in operation. On the Sea King, the radar system was adapted to provide land and maritime surface surveillance, as well as airborne early warning and control (AEW&C). The Crowsnest system will be similarly multi-role.
“Crowsnest will provide a vital intelligence, surveillance and tracking system for our new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, capable of detecting any potential threats at sea,” said Harriett Baldwin, UK Minister for Defence Procurement.