Thales UK maintains that its proposal for the Royal Navy's nascent Crowsnest programme to equip AgustaWestland AW101 Merlin HM2 helicopters for airborne surveillance and control (ASaC) missions will be more affordable, quicker to implement and offer lower risk than a bid from rival Lockheed Martin.

The RN's current ASaC function is provided by a fleet of Westland Sea King 7s, which are due for retirement in 2016, and the Ministry of Defence is keen to quickly introduce a new system in order to minimise the capability gap it faces.

The solution proposed by Thales is to take its Searchwater 2000 radars from the existing Sea King fleet and modernise and adapt the system for use on the new platform. It has additionally proposed its Cerberus mission kit for the requirement.

Matt Avison, head of sales and business development ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) for Thales UK, says: "Our view is that we are already providing the UK with a world-beating system on ASaC, so why don't we just take it out, update it, adapt it to be hosted on the HM2 and - where it gives value for money - upgrade it for better performance?"

Merlin Sea King ASaC 

 Crown Copyright 

Avison points out that as the UK already owns most of the equipment that would be installed on the HM2 fleet, with training and logistics support also in place, its costs "should be at the lower end of the scale".

And although the navy has indicated it wants to field the system from 2020 as part of its carrier strike capability, Avison believes this timeframe could be significantly accelerated.

"We would be able to provide it at the shorter end of any timescale," he says. "We could do quite a bit better than [2020] with no problem. The only issue is when we could get our hands on the old radar to update it."

While stopping short of specifically criticising Lockheed's advanced electronically scanned array (AESA) radar-based solution, developed with Northrop Grumman, Avison suggests an AESA system would be limited by the size of the equipment able to fitted to the Merlin.

Lockheed, which is leading a £750 million ($1.15 billion) upgrade to 30 of the RN's legacy Merlin HM1, is prime contractor for an initial £3 million Crowsnest effort, which has just entered an accelerated 18-month assessment phase.

The UK has indicated it will buy 10 of the roll-on, roll-off systems under Crowsnest, for use across the HM2 fleet.

Source: Flight International