The UK has ordered 10 Crowsnest airborne radar systems for its fleet of AW101 Merlin HM.2 helicopters. Photo: Leonardo

The British Defence Minister Harriett Baldwin announced a £269M (US$327 million) deal for the procurement of 10 aerial surveillance systems to operate on the Royal Navy new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers. Initial deliveries are expected in 2018 with initial operational capability in 2020.

Lockheed Martin UK is the prime contractor for the Crowsnest project. The company will integrate airborne early warning radars and passive electronic support measures in the Merlin Mk2 helicopters provided by Leonardo that will also modify the Navy’s 30 AW101 Merlin HM.2 platforms to be able to carry the Crowsnet mission package.

Thales will provide the sensor suite solution for the system. With the new radar Crowsnet will replace the Seaking AEW7 that operated from the decks of the Royal Navy’s Invincible class aircraft carriers that were phased out of service in recent years. The system is an updated and improved version of the Cerberus tactical sensor suite, currently in service on the Sea King Mk7 helicopter.

The Merlin Mk2 Crowsnet will act as the eyes and ears for the Royal Navy’s ships, providing long range air, maritime and land detection and tracking capability. The Merlin Mk2 helicopters already perform a number of other roles for the Royal Navy, including anti submarine warfare, search and rescue.

The Corwsnet equipped helicopters will be based at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall, UK and are expected to remain operational for at least 20 years.