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UK extends Sea King ASaC.7 life out to 2018

Published: 01 Jun 2014

From Richard Scott's Article in Jane's Defence Weekly

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has disclosed plans to run on a limited number of Royal Navy (RN) Westland Sea King ASaC.7 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) helicopters beyond the March 2016 out-of-service date (OSD) previously set for the UK's entire Sea King fleet.

The move all but closes the gap between the retirement of the ASaC.7 and the introduction of the Crowsnest role-fit for the AgustaWestland AW101 Merlin HM.2.

Sea King HAR.3/3A helicopters are used by the Royal Air Force for search and rescue (SAR); and by the RN for commando support (HC.4), SAR (HU.5 SAR) and AEW&C (ASaC.7). It was previously planned that the entire inventory would be retired by the end of March 2016 under plans set out in the MoD's future rotary-wing strategy.

Announcing the decision to keep a number of ASaC.7 helicopters running beyond that date in a Defence Instructions and Notices bulletin, the MoD said: "The Sea King Mk 3/3A, Mk 4 and Mk 5 will cease operational flying and be withdrawn from service by 31 March 2016. A limited number of Mk 7s will continue operational flying until the third quarter of 2018."

IHS Jane's understands that seven ASaC.7 helicopters, to be operated by 849 Naval Air Squadron, will remain in service with the RN through to the second half of 2018. With the current Sea King Integrated Operational Support contract ending in 2016, the MoD is putting bespoke contractual arrangements in place with AgustaWestland and Rolls-Royce for continued support of the ASaC.7 to its revised OSD.

The MoD earlier this year confirmed plans to accelerate the replacement Crowsnest programme to achieve an initial operating capability (IOC) in 2019, ensuring organic air surveillance and battlespace management for Carrier Strike from 2020. Current planning assumptions call for the acquisition of 10 roll-on/roll-off Crowsnest kits, with all 30 Merlin HM.2 helicopters receiving 'fit-to-receive' modifications to enable the rapid installation of the ASaC mission package.

Lockheed Martin UK Integrated Systems, prime contractor for the Merlin HM.2 upgrade, last year received a GBP24 million (USD41 million) Assessment Phase 3 contract from the MoD to manage a competition between Thales UK and a separate 'firewalled' Lockheed Martin UK team for the design, development and demonstration of the Crowsnest radar and mission system solution. A Main Gate approval is planned for 2016.

An MoD spokesperson said: "The decision to extend the life of [the] Sea King Mk 7 was taken in January 2014 and will have no impact on the migration of equipment systems to Merlin or on Crowsnest."

No details of the costs associated with the ASaC.7 extension have been released.

Regarding ASaC.7 replacement, FAAOA adds

The Ministry of Defence has specified that the Crows Nest system of radar and consoles be capable of rapid mounting on, and removal from, the Navy’s 30-strong fleet of Merlin HM.2 helicopters. The Merlin MK1s are currently being upgraded by Lockheed Martin UK. Thales UK provides the ASaC system on the soon-to-be-retired Sea Kings. Both Thales and LMUK are in the running to gain the contract. The MoD’s Crows Nest procurement team has told LMUK and Thales to expect a decision in 2015 so that the system can be in service beginning in 2018.

The Thales solution for the Crows Nest AEW requirement includes a radar housing that slides down a rack fitted to the mid-fuselage of a Merlin helicopter, to provide 360-degree coverage. The radar would be based on an upgraded version of the radar currently used on the Sea King.

In Lockheed's solution, the radar is contained in a pod and is planned to be fitted to existing hard points on the Merlin helicopter. The Vigilance pod also contains the processor and power system, an IFF interrogator, GPS/INS, ESM sensors and its own cooling system. Two of these pods, mounted on the torpedo hardpoints of the Merlin HM2, can give 360° degrees of AEW and land surveillance capability. They only need a single power source connection, and can work with the software and tactical workstations of the Merlin HM2.


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