Future Aircraft in Fleet Air Arm
The Fleet Arm is undergoing a transformation in its fleet of aircraft. Over the next few years, all aircrew and maintainers will have to change helicopter type. The new Queen Elizabeth Class carrier also means new fixed wing aircraft will be introduced. These new ships and aircraft will ensure that the Royal Navy can continue to exercise effective air power from a ship over both sea and land at a time and place of our Government's choosing.
Innovation remains a hallmark and the Fleet Air Arm is continuing to develop Maritime Unmanned Air Vehicles to support future Operations.
F-35 Joint Strike Fighter
In May 2012, reversing a decision made in the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) in 2010, the Government announced the Short take-Off/Vertical Landing (STOVL) F-35B Lightning II had been chosen as the variant to fly from the future carriers. The total number of Lightning II to be procured by the MoD will be confirmed in the 2015 Strategic Defence & Security Review. The UK has so far taken delivery of three F-35B aircraft for training and testing and ordered four production aircraft. The first Royal Navy Pilot to fly the F-35 is Lt Cdr Ian Tidball RN whose first flight was on 10 April 2013.
The F-35B will provide UK Defence with a 5th Generation (low observable, supersonic, enhanced data fusion), multi-role, all weather, day and night aircraft that will have the ability to operate from land bases as well as the Queen Elizabeth Class carriers, the first of which is due to accept Lightning II onto her deck in 2018. The first naval Squadron will be 809 NAS.
Wildcat is the latest generation of multi role helicopter specifically procured to operate from the Frigates and Destroyers of the Royal Navy. The AW159 Lynx Wildcat helicopters will be delivered into service from January 2015 with a total of 34 for the Army and 28 for the Navy being procured over the next five years. The first first fully tested aircraft was accepted into service in January 2013. Four Lynx Wildcat Mk1 attack helicopters will go into service in 2014 with 847 NAS, replacing the old Lynx Mk9. 847 NAS is part of Commando Helicopter Force.
The Navy will operate the remaining 24 Helicopter Maritime Attack (HMA) version that will be outfitted with the Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon and will carry Sting Ray torpedoes, Mk11 depth charges and the M3M 0.5inch heavy machine gun plus state of the art camera and sensors.
700W NAS (W for Wildcat) formed at RNAS Yeovilton with 52 aircrew and engineers. 700W paved the way for the new helicopter’s entry into service with front-line units of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Army.
On 1 August 2014 Lynx Wildcat Maritime Force, consisting of 815 Naval Air Squadron (NAS), 702 NAS and 700W NAS became 2 front line squadrons, similar in size but each with a unique focus. 815 NAS became the sole Lynx Squadron, and a new Wildcat Squadron, 825 NAS formed from the unification of 702 NAS and 700W NAS.
The Merlin HM1 in service with 814, 820, 824 and 829 squadrons will undergo an upgrade programme taking it to Mk2 status. Trials of the Mark 2 commenced in September 2012. 824 NAS received the first batch of five of thirty HM2 helicopters in July 2013. 824 NAS feeds the three front-line 814, 820 & 829 Merlin squadrons.
Although the Merlin is optimised for Anti-Submarine Warfare it is supremely adaptable and carries out many other tasks including counter-piracy and counter-narcotics operations. Merlin HM2 will operate from the latest Type 45 Destroyer and the next-generation Type 26 Global Combat Ship which will replace the Type 23 frigates.
As well as avionics, the upgrade also adds a new mission computer, map systems as well as new processors for the radar and acoustic sensors. These new systems and improvements mean the avionics compartments have shrunk and the aircraft will be lighter than a Mk1. It can also be fitted with an M3M 0.5inch heavy machine gun.
The rear mission console, designed to be operated by two air warfare officers, has the option to be split in half if the aircraft is required for non anti-submarine warfare missions. With half the console removed, the aircraft can carry 12 patients in the CASEVAC role, over the Mk1s eight, or up to 16 combat troops, with the area previously occupied by the console being used for ‘bergen’ or backpack storage.
The first helicopters deployed on operations in 2014.
Commando Helicopter Force is currently making preparations for the transfer of RAF Merlin HC3 and HC3A support helicopters to replace the Sea King Mk4s currently in service with 845 and 846 squadrons which are due to be withdrawn in 2016.
The Merlin HC4 will be derived from the HC3 airframes currently in service with the RAF. The current plan sees 846 NAS equipping with ex-RAF Merlin HC3s in 2015. 845 NAS will follow in 2017, operating the fully navalised Merlin HC4. Amongst the changes are new glass cockpits and avionics, a folding main rotorhead and tail, and improved undercarriage.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
The Royal Navy is to get its first unmanned ‘eye in the sky’ with the ScanEagle reconnaissance aircraft. The aircraft has been used extensively by the Americans for the past decade – including while working alongside the Royal Navy on recent mine warfare exercises in the Gulf, flying from the back of the USS Ponce – and was trialled aboard frigate HMS Sutherland back in 2006.
The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or UAV – has a wingspan of just over three metres (10ft) and weighs 22kg (48lbs) and is launched from a pneumatic catapult. Flying at about 60 knots, it is piloted by a specialist team on board the ship who will plan the ScanEagle’s missions, control its flights and monitor and analyse the information it gathers using its state of the art sensors, including a video or infra red camera, beaming back ‘real-time’ high resolution images via a satellite link. It stays airborne for around 15 to 18 hours at distances upwards of 70 miles from the ship. Scan Eagle is recovered by flying it into the wire of the retrieving frame or Sky Hook. Launch and recovery can be seen in the video.
700X NAS has two roles: parent unit for the flights deployed on Royal Navy vessels east of Suez; and to trial and evaluate any future unmanned aircraft which the Fleet Air Arm decides to invest in. The Fleet Air Arm considers it is important to develop tactics and embrace this new technology ensuring the Royal Navy remains a world leader in aviation at sea – whether manned or unmanned.
You Tube video of launch and recovery