Thales UK hopes to secure a deal to provide the mission equipment for the Royal Navy's replacement organic airborne early warning system, with its proposal based on the re-use of Cerberus equipment installed on the service's current Westland Sea King 7s.

Being used in Afghanistan and also recently employed over Libya, the navy's operational airborne surveillance and control system (ASaC) aircraft will have to be replaced soon, as the Ministry of Defence plans to retire its last Sea Kings by around 2016.

 Radar equipped Sea King helicopter
© Crown Copyright

Under current plans, the ASaC mission should be assumed by some of the 30 navy AgustaWestland AW101 Merlins, which will be upgraded to the HM2 multi-mission standard under a deal led by prime contractor Lockheed Martin UK.

Thales UK's idea is to adapt the Sea King's current Cerberus fit, with its Searchwater 2000 radar to be installed on the Merlin and deployed using elevator rails attached to the aircraft's fuselage. Roughly one-third of the fleet could be equipped with airborne early-warning sensors at any one time, with all capable of carrying it.

"The MoD has bought the equipment, and it's doing a great job in Afghanistan," said Nick Marks, head of ASaC development for Thales UK.

"Our sensor is fully multi-role over water, air-to-air and overland. We are the only system of the kind already in operational use for the role required."

Lockheed is also understood to be pursuing the RN requirement. Material displayed on its stand at the Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEi) exhibition in London included an airborne surveillance-and-control data sheet depicting a Merlin fitted with a pod-housed active electronically scanned array radar.

This would feature synthetic aperture radar and ground moving-target indication modes and be suitable for tasks such as fighter control and maritime and battlefield surveillance.

 Merlin AEW - Lockheed Martin
© Lockheed Martin

Also incorporating a gimballed radar and electronic support measures and identification friend-or-foe equipment, each pylon-mounted pod would weigh roughly 280kg (617lb), with the system to provide 360° coverage.

Lockheed said the design represents "a role-fit solution which can be mounted on any fixed-wing transport/surveillance aircraft or medium-sized helicopter".

Source: Flight International