Supplier continues to target UK's MASC programme, plus Marine Corps' MV-22 tiltrotor
The UK Royal Navy will receive its first of two Westland Sea King 7 airborne surveillance and control (ASaC) system helicopters late this year to replace those aircraft lost during a mid-air collision off the coast of Iraq in March 2003. The development comes as the navy continues to assess its options for delivering future airborne fleet protection services.
Formerly configured as Sea King HAS6 transports, the regeneration aircraft were delivered to AgustaWestland's Yeovil site in Somerset in May 2005 for conversion to the ASaC standard, which combines airborne early warning, maritime surveillance and ground moving target indication capabilities.
AgustaWestland, Lockheed Martin and Thales last year participated in studies into the RN's future Maritime Airborne Surveillance and Control system, with these based on retaining the current Sea King 7 fit, enhancing its Cerberus mission system or integrating the design with the AgustaWestland EH101 Merlin HM1. A review of this work will be completed around mid-year, although industry sources say the Ministry of Defence's first priority is to get the navy's two 65,000t future aircraft carriers under contract.
AgustaWestland is converting the two Sea Kings to the ASaC standard
Thales UK is now working on enhancements to the ASaC mission suite at its Crawley site in West Sussex, with future adaptations to potentially introduce an open system architecture and processor upgrade. "We're not standing still on Cerberus," says head of defence business development Andy Stewart. "We're looking at new mission systems and at the radar."
The company is also looking for new applications for the current Sea King 7 mission system, which is based around its Searchwater 2000 maritime surveillance radar. Lockheed's C-130 transport and the NH Industries NH90 helicopter are eyed as potential host platforms for the design, it says, along with potential adaptation of the US Marine Corps' Bell Boeing MV-22 tiltrotor. "We are actively pursuing that in the USA," says Stewart, adding that the V-22 would require a fuselage-mounted radar installation due to its high speed performance.