AgustaWestland and Thales have stepped up their efforts to promote a development of the AW101 to replace the UK Royal Navy's venerable Sea King 7 airborne surveillance and control (ASaC) aircraft.
As the incumbent suppliers of the RN's organic airborne early warning capability, the companies have joined forces to offer the AW101 Merlin equipped with Thales's Searchwater 2000 radar and Cerberus mission system.
The RN's current 11 Sea King ASaC helicopters are due to be retired from use in 2016, and a new type is needed to operate from its two Queen Elizabeth-class future aircraft carriers. The selected type will be deployed alongside the UK's Lockheed Martin F-35B Joint Strike Fighters, as part of an embarked air wing of up to 40 aircraft.
AgustaWestland says the Searchwater system's distinctive radar "bag" will be deployed through a rear ramp aperture during operations, providing 360° surveillance coverage, or else stored inside the aircraft when not in use.
The Cerberus payload will be installed on a pallet, and two mission crew stations located towards the front of the aircraft's cabin. New capabilities would include the integration of a Link 16 datalink.
"The solution we have developed capitalises on the substantial investment already made by the MoD in both the helicopter and the Cerberus mission system and radar," says Nick Whitney, senior vice-president for AgustaWestland's UK government business unit.
Thales UK chief operating officer Ed Lowe says the design offers "a low-cost, low-risk method of delivering ASaC with no capability gap".
The RN's current rotorcraft inventory includes 37 Merlin HM1s, as listed in Flightglobal's HeliCAS database. These are used for multi-mission tasks, including anti-submarine warfare operations.
Meanwhile, AgustaWestland will give a show debut to its AW159 Lynx Wildcat at the Farnborough air show. The new model is being developed for use by the RN and British Army.