Merlin ready for Gulf debut
The Royal Navy’s souped-up submarine-hunting and maritime patrol helicopter will wade into the fight against piracy and terrorism on the high seas this winter.
Tried and tested in European waters over the past couple of years – including a large-scale anti-submarine exercise in the Atlantic in 2014, Merlin Mk2 will be fundamental to patrols carried out by HMS St Albans well into the second half of 2016.
After a decade of successful operations around the globe, the Merlin Mk 2, based at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose was declared fully operational this summer.
Although it looks almost identical to its predecessor outwardly, inside the heart of the helicopter was ripped out and replaced – from a fully-digital cockpit, to a touch-screen weapons and sensor suite for the crew in the rear of the 14-tonne helicopter.
The new Merlin offers so many more tactical options in a very demanding operating area that is hugely significant to the UK’s national interests.Commander Rich Hutchings RN
Among improvements over the Mk 1 are a fully integrated electro-optic and infra-red camera which can beam imagery back to St Albans’ operations room day and night.
Upgraded radar also means they can detect, track and classify more surface ships than ever before which will allow Lieutenant Commander Lauren Hulston, Merlin’s Flight Commander and her team to go about their business more efficiently in the congested waters of the Gulf.
With the addition of an integrated Defensive Aids Suite and enhanced ballistic protection as well for the first time, Merlin is better protected against threats from missiles and small arms fire, allowing them to operate in more challenging, higher threat environments.
“Merlin Mk2 really is the world’s most advanced maritime helicopter – with the upgrades it is as good as it gets,” said Lt Cdr Hulston.
“Embarking on a Middle East deployment is a great opportunity to prove and test such a great piece of equipment.
“It’s a great honour to be in charge of the helicopter and team responsible for enhancing and delivering the highest levels of operating capability for HMS St Albans and the Royal Navy.”
She and her air and ground crew have been undergoing extensive training with St Albans off the South Coast for the Indian Ocean and Gulf mission, working with both the new Merlin and also the ScanEagle ‘eye in the sky’ Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) the ship is also taking with her.
Commander Rich Hutchings, the Saint’s commanding officer, believes the combination of St Albans and Merlin will make a huge difference to the challenging mission he and his 200 sailors and Royal Marines face.
“The Mk1 Merlin helicopter was widely recognised as a huge enhancement to any ship.
“But having now trained with the Mk2 version, I have already seen many of the upgrades in action and they are truly impressive.
“I am confident St Albans is sailing with an outstanding helicopter that gives us a huge leap forward.
“The new Merlin offers so many more tactical options in a very demanding operating area that is hugely significant to the UK’s national interests.”